WRESTLING: Bradley Central’s Ethan Spacht celebrates most dominant IESA career of all-time
When Bourbonnais Upper Grade Center eighth-grade student and Bradley Central wrestler Ethan Spacht began his middle-school wrestling career in fifth grade, he knew he wanted to make history.
And when he won his first Illinois Elementary School Association State Wrestling Championship that year, and saw Peotone’s Paul Keane become the first four-time IESA State champion the same day, Spacht knew he wanted to celebrate the same achievement.
“I always set my goals so high that people will laugh at me,” Spacht said. “So, I had this goal at a young age.”
Spacht realized his dream at Northern Illinois University last weekend when he joined Keane as the second-ever middle-school wrestler to four-peat after he defeated Mount Prospect Lincoln’s Joel Muehlenbeck 2-0 in the IESA Class AA 80-pound State Championship.
Additionally, Spacht became the first wrestler in IESA history to have an undefeated career. He went 163-0, including 17 tournament championships, allowing just two takedowns and one reversal throughout the four years. And, at the Illinois Kids Wrestling Federation club level, he celebrated an undefeated season, as well taking any spare IESA weekends and filling them with IKWF tournaments.
But out of all the individual accolades and accomplishments, it was a team-oriented statistic that Spacht was most proud of, as the fact he never lost a match meant he never cost his team a point in any meet.
“Giving up zero team points is my No. 1 (accomplishment),” Spacht said. “It’s all for the team, so not giving up any team points was pretty cool.”
And it’s that attitude that Bradley Central head wrestling coach Keith Wolford said helped make Spacht as good of a leader as he is a wrestler.
“He leads by example, and a lot of our kids pick up on that,” Wolford said. “He’s not boisterous, he’s never yelling; he just leads by example.”
And according to assistant coach Dan Richardson, the success Spacht had, as well as his older brother, Austin Spacht, who was a three-time state champ at the IESA level, has made excellence a standard for the program.
“It’s cool to see you have someone in the room have that much success and is always at practice — it becomes the norm,” Richardson said. “Years ago, just getting to the state tournament was fine, but with Ethan and Austin, that’s changed.”
That attitude was reflected when Ethan said it was his first state championship as a fifth-grader in 2015-16, the same year that the Knights won the team state title, was his favorite of the four.
“My fifth-grade year was my favorite,” Ethan said. “If I didn’t win that state title, I don’t think we would have won as a team.”
But there’s much more than leadership that went into Ethan’s dominant middle-school career. According to Richardson, the biggest characteristic that went into Ethan’s sensational run was his desire to continually improve.
“The biggest thing you don’t see a lot, especially with any athlete that’s super-talented, is you could just tell he was a great kid and had the work ethic to become better,” Richardson said. “In my years of coaching and teaching, you either see one or the other — you see kids that don’t have a lot of talent, but will work hard to peak at a sectional qualifier, or you’ll see kids with a ton of talent that just come here and there and are still better than the other kid, but don’t reach that whole potential.
“When we saw he was our most athletic and our hardest worker, it was really unique.”
And Spacht has had no shortage of talent to look up to. While he said area grapplers such as Keane and Coal City’s Alex Friddle are local wrestlers he has looked up to, he’s also found role models in champions across the state, such as Lockport’s Baylor Fernandes and Montini’s Dylan Burnoski.
“He’s met some phenomenal wrestlers and taken a little bit from all of them,” Wolford said. “It’s not just us coaches, it’s people all over the country.”
But for Spacht, it’s older brother, Austin, who made his first trip to the IHSA State Finals this season, who has been his biggest mentor.
“He’s definitely shaped me into the wrestler I am now,” Ethan said. “I definitely wouldn’t be the wrestler I am today if I didn’t have him as a big brother.”
Now that his middle school career has ended, Ethan leaves Bradley Central behind and attempts another four-peat at Bradley-Bourbonnais, although he likes to think that his entire wrestling career, that began when he was four, has been preparation for high school.
And with Ethan now out of the middle school picture, Richardson said that Wolford, fellow assistant coach T Lamie and himself have to snap back to reality.
“You’re fooling yourself if you think that one day, you’ll coach a four-time state champion — you just don’t see it at any level,” Richardson said. “You realize early on you’re witnessing something special and it’s very unlikely you’ll see it again.”
With his middle school success in his rearview mirror and his focus shifted on success in a Boilers singlet, Ethan said he has his eyes set on another four-peat, again noting that he wants people to scoff at his highly-set goals.
But it’s the things to be remembered for outside of the mat that he said he’s striving for most.
“I want to be respected not only on the mat, but off the mat, for being nice, getting good grades, all that stuff,” Ethan said. “Wrestling is going to end at some point in time for me, but those things will take me far in life.”