By PEDRO VELAZCO
---- — Being on track for a hall of fame isn't usually a surprise. Candidates tend to know they're candidates, know if they've been nominated, know if they've got a good chance.
That wasn't the case recently when Peru High School wrestling coach Andy Hobbs was elected to the Indiana Wrestling Hall of Fame.
"I was pretty shocked. Pretty shocked," Hobbs said. "I didn't think I'd ever be in that mix."
Hobbs didn't know he was being considered.
"No, I sure didn't," Hobbs said. "Just got a call from the guy that does it and said, 'Congratulations, you've been inducted.'"
Hobbs will be inducted into the hall at a ceremony in February. Hobbs coached Tipton for a season when he was a senior at Ball State, then was an assistant at Princeton for a season and coached in Peru's middle school program for three seasons before moving up to the Bengal Tigers' top position in 1995-96. He's been Peru's coach for 18 seasons.
Over that span, Hobbs has guided Peru to eight Mid-Indiana Conference titles, 11 sectional titles and five regional titles. He's seen 30 wrestlers advance to state, starting with Jason Brown in Hobbs' second year as coach in 1997. From that point on, the Bengals have had at least one wrestler at state every season except one.
"We're pretty proud that we've been able to get kids to the state meet [16 out of 17] years," Hobbs said. "I'm a big program guy. I've always put the program first.
"I think my proudest [moments are] when college gets out and kids stop by when they get home from college. They keep in touch when they get married. I go to a lot of weddings. They'll text me when they're having kids. [I have] great relationships with all the kids that have been through the program. Obviously, it's a good experience for them."
Ask Hobbs what about his tenure as coach got the attention of the Hall of Fame and he starts talking about all the people involved in the program, from people volunteering to help run events, to parents, and especially to the assistants.
"I give the credit to our people — they're awesome," Hobbs said. "It's a well-oiled machine in terms of knowing what we're trying to do all the time. I haven't had a parent meeting for years. The older parents kind of help the new parents, help them understand that they can trust what we do, that it's going to be a great experience for our kids. Our wrestling program is very involved in our community.
"I've had great assistant coaches — oh my gosh. Right now, I've got five coaches that are off the charts great. They pick things and run with them. They're great with the kids."
Hobbs said the Bengal program hit the ground running when he took over in 1995, thanks to a good group of freshmen. His own wrestling career did the same when he started wrestling as a middle schooler in Tipton County. He progressed rapidly and, wrestling at 185 pounds for Tipton, he eventually took third at the state meet as a junior, and fourth as a senior.
His experiences under several coaches shaped his coaching, and also helped him realize that he wanted to coach.
It started with youth coach Morrie King, then continued at the high school level with then-Tipton wrestling coach Dick Christie, and then-Tipton football coach Mike Tolle. Finally, when he was an assistant to Kenny Wallace at Princeton, Hobbs learned about building a program from the elementary level on up.
All those coaches played a big role, none bigger than Tolle.
"I learned how to be a coach from him," said Hobbs, who teaches engineering and technology education at PHS. "He's produced a lot of good coaches. He's a guy that he wants the entire athletic department to be great. And he won everything. I was on the [football] staff there for four years [while in college]. I patterned my thinking after him quite a bit."
Hobbs didn't trumpet his selection after he found out he'd been picked for the Hall. His first call was to Peru superintendent Chuck Brimbury, when he was still shocked from the selection. Many days later, after it had sunk in, he knew there was another call he had to make. It was kind of like when Hobbs' former wrestlers contact him now.
"I did call [Tolle] a few weeks after I found out about it," Hobbs said. "I told him, 'Hey, just wanted to let you know' and he was very excited. He taught me a lot."