Remembering a Crestwood coaching legend
Wed, 01/16/2019 - 12:11pm admin
Nate Troy Sports Editor
CRESCO - Cresco lost not only an outstanding former coach but also a great human being on Jan. 9 when Lee Sill died at age 82 after suffering from an illness.
For people who don’t follow sports, Sill was the Crestwood Head Wrestling Coach from 1973 to 1981. He amassed an impressive dual meet record of 80-10-1. The Cadets won the Northeast Iowa Conference Tournament in 1975, 1977, 1978 and 1980. Sill coached two individual Crestwood State Champions: Dan Waid (1977, 1979) and Keith Carman (1980). Sill also served as an assistant coach for the football and track teams during the same years he coached wrestling.
I’ll be honest. Many people in town knew Sill better than I did. I met him once many years ago, but we talked for only a few minutes. After talking with some of his friends last week, I wish I could have spent more time talking to Sill over the years.
Jim Turvold, former sports editor at the Times Plain Dealer and current owner of the Print Shop Plus in Cresco, covered Sill’s Cadet wrestling teams and he was a long-time friend of the coach.
“Lee was a great man and a great coach,” Turvold said. “He ran a wrestling room better than anyone could have ever hoped for. Lee’s teams won more dual meets than they should have won because of the way he ran the wrestling room. Our kids were just better than other teams.
“Charles City was a big rival of Crestwood (during the 1970s) when Jim Miller was the coach. On paper, there were many times when Crestwood shouldn’t have beaten Charles City, but they did. Lee just brought out the best in everyone, and a lot of the Crestwood kids over-achieved because of Lee,” Turvold said.
Giving up a pin was a big no-no when Sill coached.
“Lee was a stickler on not getting pinned,” Turvold said. “I watched Lee’s practices in the wrestling room. If a Crestwood kid would get pinned in a meet, the next week in practice, the whole team paid for it. To start the practice, Sill would pair up the wrestlers and have one of them go five minutes fighting off his back for 15-second intervals at a time. After those five minutes, the other wrestler would take his turn. That was gruesome. The wrestlers never wanted to get pinned (during a meet).”
Turvold noted Sill never yelled and screamed.
“Lee was very mild-mannered as a coach when he was with the team,” Turvold said. “He never took any of the credit for the team’s success. It was always about the kids with Lee.”
After retiring as the head coach following the 1980-81 season, Sill moved to Florida. In the early 2000s, he moved back to Cresco and assisted the wrestling program by running practices at the Fitness Center to teach the fundamentals of wrestling to grade school students. One of the students he helped to mentor was Ryan Steffen, who won a State Championship for the Cadets in 2018.
“Lee didn’t charge any money to run those practices,” Turvold said. “He wanted to give the kids more experience because he loved the sport of wrestling. He always kept things simple by teaching the fundamentals.”
Jim Sovereign served as an assistant coach for Sill from 1973 to 1981, and he was a freshman at Cresco High School during the 1953-54 school year when Sill was a senior.
“Lee really knew his wrestling and how to handle the kids,” Sovereign said. “As a coach, he planned things out very well. He was ready for anything during practices and meets, and he was very organized.”
Sovereign added that Sill was a stellar athlete at Cresco High School before graduating in 1954. Sill was a four-year letterwinner in football, basketball, baseball and track. A few years later, he wrestled at Upper Iowa University.
“Lee was one of the best all-around athletes Cresco has ever had,” Sovereign said. “He tried out for wrestling in his senior year after basketball was over, and he came really close to earning his 17th letter before falling just short.”
Mary Pat Sill, Lee’s daughter, noted that her dad was a humble man, but he did like to talk about her son, Terry Jason, who was born 10 weeks ago.
“Dad really loved my son, and he was very sweet with him,” Mary Pat said. “He liked to ask everyone at the nursing home if they’ve seen his new grandson.
“Dad also taught me about latitude and longitude when I was growing up. He never liked to brag about his own accomplishments. Several years ago, he won a medal at the Senior Olympics, and the only reason I heard about it was because my mom (Patty) told me about it.
“He always gave the credit to others because he wasn’t interested in talking about himself. He told my mom that after he dies, he just wants to sit on the mantle so she will have to dust him,” Mary Pat said.
Crestwood teacher Jerry Steffen, who is Ryan’s father, noted that Sill had a big influence on several young grapplers over the years.
“Lee had a pretty good impact on Ryan, but it goes beyond that,” Steffen said. “Lee voluntarily trained a lot of kids, and he was open to helping anyone who came to his practices.
“He went to a lot of youth tournaments to watch the kids he helped to train to see how they were doing. After some meets, Lee would call to ask how Ryan and the other wrestlers were doing. Lee had a good influence on many wrestlers during their early years in the sport. He loved the sport, and he will be missed,” Steffen said.
Crestwood Head Wrestling Coach Keith Slifka gave kudos to Sill.
“We (the Crestwood wrestling program) lost a great friend, coach and mentor,” Slifka said. “Sill stressed the basics about wrestling, and he always supported Crestwood wrestling, including the way he helped the youth wrestling program. He gave back a lot to the sport. He will be greatly missed.”
Jeff Knutson, who won a State Title in 1982 and competed for three years under the coach, had high praise for Coach Sill, which is how he addressed him as a student and as an adult.
“He was an awesome man, an awesome coach and an all-around great person,” Knutson said. “He made you believe in yourself. He told everyone that they could be as good as they want to be in wrestling.
“As a coach, he was a very good motivator, and he was great with conditioning his teams. He ran a great program. I have nothing but good memories of wrestling for Coach Sill. He will be truly missed,” Knutson said.
Jeff Wilson of Cresco also gave compliments to Sill.
“Crestwood has lost a great man and former coach,” Wilson said. “He coached some incredible individuals and teams. The last several years, he helped coach some young students and had a huge impact on their development. He will be missed but never forgotten.”