The Joliet Junior College wrestling program once again has a bright future, thanks in part to a recently established endowment fund by former JJC student athlete Larry Wollschlager.
The $60,000 gift, which will fund wrestling equipment, supplies and technology, is in honor of former wrestling coach Henry Pillard. From 1964 to 1968, Pillard led the team to 60 consecutive victories. He would return in 1970, where he served as head coach for another 15 years. In that stretch, Pillard’s teams produced over 40 All-Americans, eight national champions, as well as numerous academic All-Americans and top 10 finishes. He’s a member of the National Junior College Athletic Association’s Hall of Fame, as well as the Illinois Wrestling Coaches and Official’s Hall of Fame.
Pillard’s coaching style and support of his wrestlers off the mat left a lasting impact on many, including Wollschlager (’69).
“Being a young man from Chicago from a modest working family, with no money to attend college other than what I could save working odd jobs during the summer, Mr. Pillard’s sincerity and the fact that Joliet was a short distance from Chicago convinced me to give JJC a try,” Wollschlager said.
Wollschlager recalls a coach dedicated to his recruits, who was able to develop his athletes’ skills to their greatest potential. Pillard’s passion for his wrestlers’ success extended to their performance in the classroom and away from campus. He was willing to assist his athletes in any way possible, Wollschlager said, even by providing temporary lodging to recruits who couldn’t afford it.
“Coach Pillard was a very unselfish man. He wanted his wrestlers to be successful. He was sympathetic to their status,” said Wollschlager. “There are many stories I heard from other wrestlers before me. Many of them had such high respect for Coach Pillard because they saw what he did for them and for so many of their wrestling buddies.”
Wollschlager credits the time and encouragement he received from Pillard to his successful wrestling career at the University of Texas El Paso (UTEP).
“Both [fellow JJC wrestler] Al Handy and myself have much to be grateful to coach Pillard for as we were both offered full scholarships to UTEP, which was beginning their wrestling program for the first time,” said Wollschlager.
The following year, UTEP’s wrestling program would also recruit Tom Pearson and Bill Bell from JJC. In Wollschlager’s last year at the Texas school, he said the four were undefeated in dual meets. Wollschlager and Handy would later earn individual titles at their weight class at the Western Athletic Conference tournament.
Today, Wollschlager serves as president of Wolf Energy, a private exploration and production company based in Midland, Texas.
“I stayed in contact with Coach Pillard because I knew he had helped give me a path,” he said. “At the time I didn’t know where the path led but I tried to stay on course and return to my (fellow) wrestlers the same kind of unselfish respect and encouragement.”
“Obviously, we’re extremely grateful to Larry for his continued support over the last three years,” said current JJC Wrestling Coach Andrew Blahut. “As we try to get back to where this program was in the 60s, 70s and early 80s before it was cut, building this endowment will go a long way to getting us there. It will also help to secure the program’s longevity and its ability to be self-sufficient. One of our main goals will be to continue to grow the endowment and possibly expanding its use to student-athlete scholarships.”
To learn more about how you can support Joliet Junior College wrestling contact the JJC Foundation Office call 815-280-2693 or visit www.jjc.edu/athleticsgiving-sportspecific.
For media inquiries, contact Communications and Media Coordinator Scott Harvey at 815-280-2844 or firstname.lastname@example.org.