Dream Big: Joe Protsman Memorial Wrestling Tournament puts future of sport center-stage

This is the dream for any young wrestler. And this is where it begins.

"My grandpa actually went to nationals and was a 5-time national placer, my dad got 2nd in state for 3 straight years, and me and my cousins have carried that on. Our sport is wrestling,"

Kyle's grandfather was Joe Protsman, an all-American wrestler and administrator at Western Illinois University and former coach of the Macomb Little Bombers wrestling club. Protsman's name was synonymous with area wrestling, so much so that over 300 kids wrestled on Sunday at the Macomb tournament bearing his name.

"Its exciting because you get to have a bunch of fun with friends in your club, who you can hang around with when you're not wrestling,"

"Some of my friends that I wrestle, we act like brothers on and off the mat. It can become a family sport for anyone,"

With as much fanfare as wrestling receives on the local high school level, its every bit as celebrated on the junior circuit. Some kids may begin wrestling at the age of 4, giving area club coaches plenty of time to bring their wrestlers up the right way.

"Our goal every year is just to have the kid love the sport. Win or lose, have a smile on your face when you come off the mat. That's really what we want to do is foster a love for the sport,"

"What makes it special to me is watching a kid grow, and learn, and become an athlete,"

Sunday's tournament brought in wrestlers from all over the Tri-States, and others from more than 100 miles away. There's no shortage of opportunities for the area's junior wrestlers, and equally important, there's no shortage of role models, either.

"Wrestling is kind of big because we've got all of those good wrestlers from the high schools like Matt Surprenant,"

"Dakota, who got 5th in state, and another senior, Jaydon Summy,"

"I'd kind of like to be like Jack Lucie,"

"Austin Miller and Matt Surprenant from around here, and from Iowa, Matt McDonough,"

"All of our little kids look up to the high school kids. Yesterday they were even watching Matt Surprenant on the internet, and they thought that was the best thing in the world,"

The persistence and work ethic that you see among the high school stars begins on these mats.

"A wrestler has to have dedication, he's got to want to come out and practice everyday and work towards his goals and accomplishments,"

Its tournaments like these that show just how deep our local wrestling tradition flows. The youth in the Tri-States have the passion to make it to the top of the podium, and above that, the dreams to help them get there.

"Probably to win a state championship or first in nationals,"

"My goals are to become a nationals champion and wrestling prodigy,"

"My main goal is that you can never give up on your dream. Kids always have a big dream and you just want to dream big,"