ALLIANCE: Less than 60 minutes into practice, Mount Union wrestling coach Bill Schindel’s T-shirt was soaked through.
The 26-year-old had been sparing with a team member, just as he did when he was a three-time All-American for the Purple Raiders. He wore a pad on his right knee, which has undergone two surgeries. When he appeared to hurt his shoulder, he winced but never paused.
Schindel remains as intense and driven as the day he placed third at the NCAA Division III championships in 2011.
But two hours earlier, Schindel was wiping away tears as he talked about winning his family’s tournament, the Bill Dies Memorial, and being named MVP as a senior at Archbishop Hoban.
“The only one to win it,” he said under his breath, referring to his family. “We won’t bring that up.”
He probably knew how he would react, understood the emotions that would bubble from below. Bill Dies was his grandfather, the co-founder of the Ohio Youth Wrestling Association, who died in 1987 a month before he was born. Wrestling is the passion of the Dies family, which calls on all ages when it’s time to work the tournament, one of the largest and most prestigious events in Northeast Ohio.
“It’s definitely the hardest tournament, as a grandson, that you wrestle in your entire life,” Bill said in his office in the McPherson Academic and Athletic Complex. “The state tournament, national tournament, pressure-wise, is easier. You understand the meaning of what your grandfather has done and what he built and you know everybody’s eyes are on you in that gym. Or at least you think everybody’s watching you.
“That means something, that hangs on my wall,” he said, choking up as he pointed. “That means more to me than these.”
He gestured to the All-America trophies sitting on the windowsill and gave in to the tears.
Schindel, in his second season in charge after a year as an assistant, dreams of building something just as lasting in wrestling as his grandfather did. His mother, Tina Schindel, one of nine children of Bill and Netta Dies, marvels that Bill got his dream job without rising through the youth and high school ranks. Bill took over after Mark Hawald, the Division III national coach of the year in 2011, left for Case Western Reserve.
As the Purple Raiders pursue an Ohio Athletic Conference title this season, they will have a decidedly Dies flavor.
Bill’s brother Joe, 22, of Hoban, is a senior and their cousin, Luke Dies, 19, a Manchester graduate, is a sophomore. The three hope their family pride can be instilled in the Mount Union program.
“A lot of people say, ‘You never get away from wrestling.’ Lately wrestling can never get away from us,” Luke said before practice a week ago. “We’ve got our claws so deep into this sport, there’s no way we can get away. Especially with my little brother Paul being a sophomore at Manchester, he’s coming here, too, and continuing the legacy.”
Considering the size of the Dies family, the end of the legacy doesn’t seem imminent.
Bill said he has 32 first cousins. An impromptu Fourth of July gathering can draw 100. Tina said their annual Thankmus, a holiday feast between Thanksgiving and Christmas, was planned this year around those coming from outside the area, but “surprisingly there are very few.” One is Bill’s cousin Dave Dies, who lives in Chicago. Bill said Dave is known as “Golden Dies” because he won the state title at Springfield High School.
“With all my uncles and hundreds of cousins running around Northeast Ohio, I love the name,” Luke said. “When people say they love their family, love is an understatement. With all the encouragement, I get texts asking how I’m doing, how everybody’s doing at Mount. It’s a phenomenal feeling.”
During their summers in high school, Dies kids get jobs at Dies Electric, an Akron company started by Bill and Netta in 1960. Tina is an accountant there, working with four of her brothers and a sister.
“Even though it’s 3:30 or 4 when the work ends, you end up staying until 5 o’clock sitting and talking about wrestling,” Bill said.
Those afternoons aren’t extreme. It’s the weddings where wrestling seems most out of place.
“When my cousin got married, him and his dad both got in wrestling stances when they went to do the pictures,” Joe said.
“At every single wedding we have a mat somewhere and do takedowns,” Luke said.
“I remember talking with my cousin Bob and my mom came over and said, ‘Quiet.’ They were getting ready for the best man’s speech,” Bill said. “We’re jabbering and showing an under hook.”
Tina said when Bill and fiancee Krista Roe had engagement pictures taken for their June wedding, Bill tried a takedown on Krista.
“It was really cute,” Tina said.
It might seem difficult for Bill to coach Joe and Luke and maintain a coach-player relationship. But the issues he had with Joe were cleared up when Joe was a sophomore.
“That first year if he told me to do something, I was like, ‘You’re just the assistant, I’ll do what the head coach says,’ ” Joe said. “We kind of got into it a little bit. Last year I feel like I matured and we separated that brother/coach relationship.”
Joe said his brother is not more demanding of him than he is of the other wrestlers.
“Not really. I feel like we’re both on the same page. He knows and I know where I need to be,” Joe said. “That first year he was more demanding. We kind of got over that and realized what’s the best for me and what’s the best for the team.”
Bill said one of his favorite memories in wrestling was Joe winning the district championship as a senior at Hoban, a feat Bill never accomplished.
“Hopefully I’m doing a great job pushing him in that direction and helping him,” Bill said of his three trips to nationals as a collegian.
Bill and Joe never wrestled each other at Hoban, but did at Mount Union when Bill was a fifth-year senior and Joe was a freshman. In warm-ups for a match at Ohio Northern, Bill broke Joe’s finger.
“I had to have surgery,” said Joe, a 165-pounder. “It still gets brought up every now and then. He’ll be showing a move and he’ll say, ‘Don’t do this in case you break the guy’s finger.’
“That’s the thing me and him have that other kids don’t. When we go live situations in the room, that brotherly rivalry is still there. I still want to be the younger brother who tries to kick his butt; he wants to try to put me in my place.”
Bill calls the day Joe was injured in January, 2011 “weird” because on the way home the Mount Union bus collided with a snowplow, killing athletic trainer Dan Gorman and injuring four others.
As for Bill’s relationship with Luke, there are high expectations because Luke wrestles at Bill’s old weight class of 197.
“I’m definitely hard on him. I know there are times Krista says, ‘Ease up.’ I’d rather be a coach that asks too much than too little,” Bill said.
“I can definitely tell he’s pushing me the way he would do it if he could do it again, picking up where he left off,” Luke said. “We’ve had a lot of conversations about where I could be my senior year.”
Luke said he thought he was finished with wrestling after high school, but his brothers and parents convinced him he could do better.
“I had my goals set so low, especially with Bill having goals set so high, you get used to having those goals set so high,” Luke said. “My freshman year halfway through the season when I kept losing and losing, everybody’s beating me in the room and I used to run through kids in high school. Everybody was like, ‘You’re going to take your licks, but you’re going to end up doing well.’ That’s the mindset I have every day even though I wake up with a bum knee or my shoulder’s hurting and I’ve got to get up and run on the treadmill. It’s a continuous grind.”
But it’s the grind they love. It’s the grind they can’t imagine giving up, even when their competitive days are over. Luke hopes to be a high school wrestling coach, and Joe wants to serve as an assistant under his brother.
Whether they coach, happily toil at Dies Electric or work the Bill Dies Memorial, all will proudly carry the mantle of being a Dies.
“It’s just amazing having the Dies name, walking around. I have this big chip on my shoulder and a smile on my face because I’m part of this, wrestling,” Luke said. “I can never get away from it and I never want to.”
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog at http://www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.