Despite having only three wrestling programs, the UAA has a storied history in the sport. Three of its most successful grapplers wrestled together during a six-year span of excellence for the University of Chicago wrestling program.
1992 graduates Peter Wang and Frank Arado, and 1994 graduate Mario Springer are among the elite wrestlers in UAA history and have continued that excellence in their chosen professions. In the six-year period that encompassed the three careers, the Maroons scored every year at the NCAA Division III Wrestling Championship, including three top-15 finishes.
Wang was the first UAA wrestler to win back-to-back NCAA Division III national championships in 1991 and 1992, and is the only UAA student-athlete to be named NCAA Division III Most Outstanding Wrestler, an honor he achieved in 1992. He earned All-America honors all four years and never finished lower than fourth in the NCAA Championship.
Arado was the first UAA wrestler to earn All-Association honors each of his four years (1989-92) and was named Most Outstanding Wrestler in 1992. He earned All-America honors in 1992 when he finished fourth in the 126-pound weight class.
(Pictured: L: Frank Arado with late NYU Athletic Director Dan Quilty; R: Arado, Peter Wang, Mario Springer on Friday, Oct. 23, 2015 at University of Chicago Athletics Hall of Fame Induction)
Springer is one of only three student-athletes to earn back-to-back UAA Most Outstanding Wrestler honors (1993 and 1994). He earned All-America honors at 150 pounds in the same years and Academic All-America accolades in 1994. Springer also joined Wang as one of only three Maroons to qualify for the NCAA Championship all four years despite a career plagued by injuries. Last Friday, he joined Wang as a Chicago Athletics Hall of Fame inductee.
All three were named to the UAA 25th Anniversary Wrestling Team.
Wang started wrestling in the seventh grade. One of his older brothers played basketball and the other wrestled. "I liked wrestling more than basketball," he remembered. His brother David wrestled from 1984-88 at Case Western Reserve University for legendary coach Bob Del Rosa. "He reminds me constantly that he was on the first team to win the UAA championship," Wang added.
(Pictured: L: Peter Wang with Leo Kocher; R: Wang on NCAA podium in 1991)
Arado, who grew up in Chicago and worked there after graduation, is now a lawyer in Charlotte, NC. He remembers his road to wrestling success was not always an easy one. He started competing in fifth grade. "I was in a tournament at Rosemont and there was a sign on the ceiling that said something to the effect of 'if you can read this, you are getting pinned' and I got pinned three times that day."
By the time he reached high school, he recorded three pins in less than a minute combined on the freshman team and was moved up to varsity, where he spent four years and set numerous school records.
Arado enrolled at the University of Illinois, but didn't show up. He ended up getting one of five full academic scholarships to Chicago given to children of police officers and firemen in the city. "I wasn't that excited about going to college but my father always stressed that education was the most important thing in the world and he realized the value of that scholarship," he recalled. "Not to mention the scholarship was for more money than my father made in an entire year on the police force."
That first year at Chicago was a tough one for Arado. "I was pretty rough around the edges and just didn't fit in," he remembered. "I quit 2-3 times my freshman year and even re-enrolled at Illinois, but my father and (Chicago head coach) Leo (Kocher) convinced me to stay. It was one of the best decisions of my life."
(Pictured: L: Mario Springer with Leo Kocher; R: Springer in action)
Springer began his wrestling career in high school in Wheaton, IL. After graduation from Chicago, he went to law school at the University of Virginia and is now Vice President Compliance at ADP in Roseland, NJ. Springer also remembers a tough first year at Chicago. After earning All-Association honors at 150 pounds, he cut to 142 lbs., stayed dedicated to the plan set forth by the coaching staff, and qualified for the NCAA Championship at 142 lbs.
The only time in his four-year career he wasn't named to the UAA All-Association team was his sophomore year when he competed up a weight class at the UAA championship and wrestled to a draw with future two-time NCAA champion Chris Ricklic of Case Western Reserve. "I scored a reversal, he earned two escapes, but I beat our common NYU opponent by two more points than he did," Springer recalled. "I should have earned All-Association honors based upon the scoring criteria. Years later, I joked with Case Western Reserve's Coach Del Rosa that I was three-time All-UAA and he had my fourth!"
All of them credit long-time coach Kocher with pushing them to greater heights. "I had a couple of go-to moves but I was not as technically skilled as I needed to be," Wang said. "It took time to develop technique and train my body to react during a match. Leo really bumped up our schedule in 1990 and that pushed us."
"Leo was really a father figure," Arado commented. "He is revered in the wrestling realm and I really respected that. He was not the type of coach to yell. He used his intelligence, strategy, and technical knowledge to make us better."
"Leo was first and foremost a teacher," Springer recalled. "I really looked up to him as my mentor and the team was like a family."
Springer was accepted at Northwestern University and during his prospective student weekend there even purchased a "Northwestern mom" t-shirt for his mother. A retired educator/administrator in the Chicago Public School system, Springer's mother encouraged him to still attend the University of Chicago prospective weekend.
He immediately fell in love with everything the school had to offer - small class size, the academic intensity, and incredible architecture. "I was pretty cocky in high school and I will always remember Leo telling me that if I worked really hard at the U of C, then I might be a starter by my junior year," he said. Springer took that as a challenge. "One of the best things about Leo is that he demanded the same things of himself as he did of us. He wanted to make sure we had the best opportunity to excel at everything we did. Leo and Joe (Bochenski, assistant coach and Maroon Hall of Famer) helped us hone our strengths and minimize our weaknesses."
Another person who Arado looked up to was his teammate Wang. "I got to the program with confidence and then I was shocked when I saw how good Peter was. He worked out with Leo and perfected everything Leo taught him. Peter's mental toughness was beyond compare. I have never come across anyone else as mentally tough as Peter."
Wang rarely lost, which was good considering his disdain for it. "I did not like losing at all," he stated. "I was very competitive. I wasn't focused on becoming an All-American. I was focused on each match as the individual one I had to win at that moment. I was very intense."
"I did understand that I could learn a lot through the losses," Wang said. "The key was to take those lessons to heart."
Wang graduated with a degree in physics and is now a high school physics teacher. "When I was working on my senior project, I realized that I wanted more than just sitting in front of a computer and decided to earn my teaching certificate. He coached wrestling for 15 years and also coached football, but now coaches chess. "I know 10 times more about wrestling then football and I know 10 times more about football than chess, but I really enjoy it."
All three wrestlers stay connected to the Chicago program and keep in touch with Kocher. Wang and Arado joined a myriad of former Maroons who returned to see Springer inducted into the school's Hall of Fame. "Mario is such a great guy," Arado said. "He is a beloved member of our program."
UAA 25th Anniversary Team (Feb. 6, 2013)
Still Winning: University of Chicago Wrestler Peter Wang (Chicago Tribune, Jan. 31, 1992)
Mat Brings Out The Tiger in Him (Feb. 22, 1992)