#TBT Big Ten Medal of Honor - Eric Siebert 1998
April 10, 2014
One of the most prestigious conference awards in college athletics, the Big Ten Medal of Honor was first awarded in 1915 to one student-athlete from the graduating class of each university who had "attained the greatest proficiency in athletics and scholastic work." In 2014, the conference celebrates the 100th anniversary of this prestigious award.
Coached by his father, Mark, at LaSalle-Peru High School, Siebert was a three-time state place-winner in high school. He finished third in '91, placed second in '92 and was the 145-lb state champion in '93 with a senior record of 46-0. He is fourth on the IHSA all-time wins list with 176, first on all-time pins with 117 and has an IHSA record 40 consecutive pins.
Athletics run in Siebert's family, as his father was also a football coach at LaSalle and coached the wrestling team for 22 years, and younger brother Tony was a three-time state placer at L-P who ended up being a NCAA Tournament national qualifier at the U of I. Today, Tony is an assistant coach for his brother at Carl Sandburg High School in Orland Park, Ill.
At the University of Illinois Siebert won an NCAA Title in 1998 at the 150-pound mark with a 36-0 record after he placed fifth in 1997. He was a four time NCAA qualifier and is fourth on the University of Illinois all-time win list with a record of 112-30. In 1998 Siebert was selected as Illinois' Male Athlete of the Year and was the recipient of the Big Ten Medal of Honor for his achievement in athletics and academics.
"It's obviously an honor to be given that award," Siebert said. "The tradition and the long list of unbelievable recipients, just to have your name associated with the award and the previous winners and future winners as well. It's a huge honor."
"Those two impacted my life tremendously. I can't even put an amount on what they've done for me," Siebert said.
Siebert became an assistant coach at Carl Sandburg High School in 1998 under legendary wrestling coach Mike Polz. After spending 10 years as an assistant, he inherited the program from Polz in 2008, who became Siebert's assistant and remains one of the winningest high school coaches in the state's history. Since, Siebert has coached 12 Class 3A state place winners.
"The University of Illinois has a lot to do with it," Siebert said about getting to where he is now. "Having success and graduating from there, one of the most prolific coaches in the state of Illinois at that time, Mike Polz basically hand-picked me out and said we have a teaching opening and I want you to come and coach with me. It was a great opportunity I was given by him and the school. So, Illinois played a huge role in that. To be hand-picked by somebody like that because of how you've done at the Illinois, I think that says a lot in a lot of different ways."
Currently in his 16th year as a teacher and a coach, Siebert led Sandburg to a Class 3A team dual state title twice, and came after the Eagles finished second in 2010 and third in 2011 under his guidance.
Sandburg is located in a hotbed for the sport for the west and south suburbs of Chicago and as a large school (over 3,400 students), Siebert has a large group of talent to work with as the program draws in a lot of kids who know of the success of the program. Siebert continues to stress academics and athletics as he did in college but also teaches his athletes how to do the right thing as young adults.
"I think there is a third component of that that I continually preach," Siebert said. "We've been really successful, which I'm really proud of, but I'm really proud that we emphasized the academics, the athletics and then just doing the right thing and being good young adults. Continuing to make good decisions and holding yourself accountable in every aspect. Whether it's social, academic or times when you lose a close one or if you catch a break and win, it's how you handle yourself in those adverse conditions that sometimes define you."
Both of Siebert's parents were teachers, so he grew to understand how valuable being a teacher and coach really is. Now with his own family, Siebert and his wife have a 2-year-old daughter and are expecting a second child, and his family feels very content and happy in their supportive athletic community.
"I saw growing up the benefits of being with your family," Siebert said. "But also how my parents affected kids and the joy they got from seeing kids succeed both in the classroom and the competitive field or mat. It did a lot for them and it was a pretty easy decision to say that this is what I want to do.
"I can't see myself leaving, I really can't. I've been here 16 years now. I was fresh out of college. I've only gone on one job interview my whole life and I don't see myself having to go on another one. I don't think a lot of people can really say something along those lines. I feel really lucky and fortunate and blessed that I ended up here."