Townsell takes young Oak Park wrestlers under his wing
Richard "Doc" Townsell, co-head coach of the Little Huskies Wrestling Club, cheers on kids running drills at the end of practice at Oak Park-River Forest High School. | Ryan Pagelow~Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 8, 2013 6:19AM
OAK PARK — When youth wrestling coach Richard “Doc” Townsell left the Gladiators club in Maywood to join the Little Huskies two years ago, Jenelle Bastian wanted her 7-year-old son to follow Townsell as well.
Bastian’s son, Dino Stephens, is one of several youth wrestlers who left the Gladiators to join Townsell with the Little Huskies, a feeder program for the Oak Park-River Forest wrestling team. It seems everyone knows “Doc,” who is one of the most respected youth coaches in the area.
“Doc is really, really disciplined in practice. He believes in these kids and treats them like his own,” said Bastian, an Oak Park resident. “If you have a problem at school, he will put them aside (to talk) and get them going.”
Dino started wrestling three years ago. Bastian wanted to introduce her son to the sport since he was such as an active child around the house. “He came out (of the womb) punching,” Bastian joked.
Bastian said a friend of her’s at church recommended that she seek out Townsell as a coach for her young son.
“She said, ‘Doc is an amazing man. He mentors them. He would be good for your son,’ ” Bastian said. “He is teaching my son to be a good person, to be a good student and to be a good child and friend. (My son) watches (his coaches) and he’s learning that from them.”
Townsell, the man who helped turn Oak Park-River Forest coach Mike Powell into a state champion in 1994, now develops kids ages 6 to 14 into Illinois Kids Wrestling Federation winners.
Townsell — who earned his nickname since he was a fan of basketball legend Julius “Dr. J” Erving — wrestled at Dunbar and Northwestern and qualified for the NCAA tournament his senior year. It was at that time that Townsell met then-OPRF wrestling coach Norm Parker. Northwestern held open meets in the 1980s and Parker would bring in his top wrestlers.
Years later, Parker ran into Townsell and a friend of his from Dunbar, Ozzie Porter. Porter had finished fifth in Class AA at 138 in 1982.
Parker had a favor to ask of the two friends: Would they help a promising wrestler with the talent and potential to win a state title?
“Parker said, ‘I want you to beat up Mike Powell (in training) and get him ready for state,’ ” Townsell said. “Three to four times a week, we were giving it to him. We worked him where he would almost cry. He was not a kid you can push over.”
The training paid off. Powell became OPRF’s fifth different state champion by winning the Class AA 171 title in 1994. He finished 41-0 and defeated Ryan Root (39-1) of Chatham Glenwood, 11-7, in the final. Powell went on to become an All-American at Indiana in 1996.
One of Townsell’s regrets is that he did not go to the state tournament to watch Powell compete; Porter did.
“I was elated (for Powell),” Townsell recalled. “I thought Mike Powell could win it. He had a tough semifinal finish.”
When Townsell’s own son, Gabe, developed into a promising youth wrestler, the Townsell family was looking to leave its old neighborhood in North Lawndale. Doc Townsell is a math teacher at North Lawndale College Prep.
“The gang situation in Chicago (worsened),” Townsell said. “Gabe was chased home from school. There were guys on the corner that would chase after him.”
Townsell coached Gabe with the Gladiators for four years, but after moving to Oak Park, the Townsells joined the Little Huskies.
“I love kids,” Doc Townsell said. “It’s really a simple thing. I love kids. I love being around them. It’s absolutely a joy to see them grow and develop.”