Getting a firm grasp on the history of a high school sport is not an easy task.
In fact, Rob Sherrill jokingly said he's been "stupid" enough to take on projects throughout his writing career that most others would deem impossible. Such as chronicling the entire history of high school wrestling in Illinois.
But if there is anyone equipped to grapple with a project of this magnitude it's Sherrill. He's covered the sport in Illinois and nationally for nearly 35 years and was the first media member to be inducted into the Illinois Wrestling Coaches and Officials Association Hall of Fame.
So, just in time for the holidays for the wrestling fan is "Tales From the Mat: Illinois High School Wrestling at 75." The 500-page book is filled with more than 200 photos. stories, facts and figures about the sport's start in Chicago high schools through all 75 state tournaments held by the IHSA. It retails at $37.95 and can be ordered at www.centermatpress.com.
"I would have people ask me about my old book all the time but it's been out of print for many years," Sherrill said of "Mat Madness: 60 Glorious Years of Illinois High School Wrestling," which he wrote in 1996. "I figured I might as well do the next-best thing and take it through the present day.
"It has lots of new stuff and people but it certainly addresses the entire history. People whose recollections are of the last 15 years will see a lot of stuff they haven't seen before."
Sherrill looks at the rise of powerful programs in recent years such as Montini, Sandburg and coach Mike Polz, Providence and coach Keith Healy and Dakota and coach Pete Alber. He also gets into the sport's move to three classes in 2009 and has put together an interesting timeline on the evolution of the IHSA's wrestling rules.
Sherrill said this edition has more photos and a revamped records section. But the records contain more of Sherrill's unique spin to them and doesn't duplicate what can be found at the IHSA or IWCOA websites.
"Obviously it's very heavy on the last 15 years," Sherrill said of the increase of 200 pages from his first book, "but I did add a few things from previous years."
One of the reasons Sherrill was able to add so much more about recent events was the ease in finding more detailed information. That allowed him to provide a better perspective on how various seasons evolved and not just on what happened in late February at Assembly Hall in Champaign.
"In the early years there just isn't a lot of history other than what surrounded the state series," Sherrill said. "Now it's easier to portray how a season unfolds now from beginning to end."
It's also easier when the person putting it together is someone like Sherrill -- although he said this book required 2½ years to complete while the original took nine months. The Homewood-Flossmoor graduate has been captivated by wrestling since he first started covering it as a part-time reporter at the old south suburban Star Newspapers in 1978.
"The whole sport was just something that clicked with me from the very beginning," Sherrill said. "It's a community where if you care about them, they'll cooperate with you. If you really care about them you become part of the family and I've been fortunate to be around people who took me in from the beginning."
Sherrill also covered wrestling for the Sun-Times and compiled the USA Today's weekly Super 25 wrestling rankings in the 1990s. He still publishes "The Illinois Best Weekly" state rankings, regularly contributes to the "Illinois Matmen" website and is the national high school editor for the Iowa-based WIN (Wrestling Insider Newsmagazine).
He moved 15 years ago to Nashville, Tenn., but still comes home at the holidays to see family and broadcast big events such as the Dvorak and the Class A New Year's Challenge. He also continues his announcing work on the IHSA-TV broadcasts of the individual and dual meet state tournaments.
"Illinois people just won't let go of me," Sherrill said with a laugh. "I'm glad they don't because they're just the greatest group of people to work with and be associated with.
"The Illinois wrestling community really is a family to me and I think they consider me in the same way even though I don't live there any more."
Especially since "Tales From the Mat" could be regarded as a nice family album for everyone involved with Illinois high school wrestling.
• Marty Maciaszek is a freelance columnist for the Daily Herald who can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org