Legendary high school coach Schmitt passes

Bill "Red" Schmitt, longtime wrestling coach at Illinois' Granite City High School just outside St. Louis, passed away last weekend. He was 94.

Bill "Red" Schmitt
The man affectionately known as "Schmitty" coached at Granite City from 1950 to 1985. Under Schmitt, the Warriors captured the 1965 Illinois state wrestling title, marking the first time a team outside of Chicago had won a state wrestling crown. His first three teams at Granite City were undefeated.

Schmitt was the first wrestling coach in the country to reach 500, 600 and 700 career wins, eventually reaching 1,400 dual-meet victories, according to the Alton Telegraph, the newspaper in his hometown. He is a member of numerous national, state and regional wrestling Halls of Fame.

Born in Alton, Illinois in 1922, William C. Schmitt was a champion wrestler at Alton High School, where he graduated in 1940. After serving in World War II, Schmitt earned a bachelor's degree from Shurtleff College and a master's from University of Illinois. He began coaching at Alton's Western Military Academy in 1947, then came to Granite City High, where he remained for 35 years.

Schmitt led Granite City to 18 conference titles and 26 sectional championships. In addition to winning the state title in 1965, Schmitt's Warriors also placed in the top 10 at the state tournament 15 times. Schmitt also had 47 individual state place winners and coached four state champions. With Schmitt at the helm, Granite City had a 605-82-5 record, the Belleville News Democrat reported.

A number of individuals who knew "Red" and "Schmitty" spoke glowingly of the late coach.

"The metro east area lost a great man this weekend," Granite City High School Athletic Director John Moad said. "Coach Schmitt was a coaching legend. He was a wrestling icon not only in southern Illinois. But he was an icon throughout the state."

"He was an iconic figure in Granite City and in wrestling," said current Warrior coach George Kirgan. "He cared about the kids who wrestled for him and when I started coaching, he helped mentor me. I learned a lot of positives from him and we were very fortunate to have him here as a coach."

"Coach Schmitt was the kind of coach that as an athlete you wanted to run through the wall for," said Mike Garland, who served as assistant to Schmitt, then later became head coach at Granite City. "One of the most amazing was the number of dual matches his teams won. Back then, teams didn't wrestle more than 12-15 dual matches a year. For him to win as many as he did was an amazing number.

"Some of it had to do with tradition. Maybe a lot of it," Garland continued. "Coach Schmitt built such a good program and was such a strong part of his athletes lives that as an athlete or a team, you didn't want to be the one or the team to let him down. To let the program down."
"Coach Schmitt was the Dan Gable of high school wrestling," said Mike Garland of the man whose name now adorns the annual Granite City High Christmas wrestling tournament. "He will be missed and remembered forever."

Schmitt is survived by his wife of 70 years, Helen; two daughters; three grandchildren; and one great-grandchild… along with one brother, Ron.

A memorial celebration for Bill Schmitt will be held on October 9, 2016, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., at Hatheway Gallery on the campus of Lewis & Clark College in Godfrey, Illinois.

Memorials may be made to The Nature Institute, 2213 S. Levis Lane, Godfrey, IL 62035, or to Granite City High School, designated for the William "Red" Schmitt Holiday Wrestling Tournament, 3101 Madison Ave., Granite City, IL 62040.


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