Do it right the first time: Chesterton's Joll went a long way on a simple coaching philosophy
Growing up, Chris Joll learned a few basic life tenets from his dad that he's carried with him.
"I remember him saying if you do things right the first time, you don't have to do it a second time," Joll said. "And if you tell the truth, you don't have to remember what the lie was. If you don't stand by what you say, there's generally going to be a loophole in there."
For Chesterton senior Brock Ellis, it sounds just like 3 to 5 p.m. in the wrestling room during the season.
"He jokes around in practice, if you do a move wrong, you've got to quit that, I don't want people to think that's how I taught you to do it," said Ellis, the 152-pound state runner-up. "Do it right the first time, get it done. How long we spend on a drill depends on us. If we're doing sloppy technique, we're going to keep drilling it. The longer we take to do it right, the longer we're going to do the drill. That's when everyone really sharpens in. We get it done the first time and we don't have to do it again. It's the same with conditioning. It's all based on effort. That's what made the team jump by leaps and bounds. Whatever we put in is what we're going to get out. Everyone's going to benefit from that. It's going to get everyone better in every aspect."
That fundamentally simple yet highly effective approach has taken Joll and his teams a long way over the course of his coaching career that began at Chesterton, his alma mater, in 1986.
"I never looked at what I do as a big deal," Joll said. "If you were to ask any of those boys in the room now, any of the boys I had my first couple years here or at Merrillville, what would coach Joll do if you did this? They would all probably tell you the same thing. One thing I always did was I stood by the way I did things, I stood by what's right and wrong. That's why six of those kids are doctors, five of them are military special forces, why they've all been successful. It's not that hard. Like (Calumet coach) Jim Wadkins said, do sh*t right. I hope no one thinks I'm full of it."
On the heels of Chesterton's state runner-up finish, Joll will retire as a coach and teacher at the end of the school year. The decision is based on his eligibility via the Rule of 85, a pension plan provision that allows an employee to retire when their age and number of years worked at their employer meets that number.
"I certainly wasn't going to do this forever," Joll said. "I've been trying to wean myself from the club for a really long time so someone else could take over. I don't really know the young kids because I knew in five years I wouldn't be there. If I had been eligible last year, I probably would've retired last year. If there wasn't a rule, I'd still be going. I couldn't teach and not coach. It would be too hard. It would be great if I could coach and not be a teacher, but I feel like you have to be both to be good at it. I can't tell you how many kids I've saved because I was in the building to help them out. You'd be surprised by the number of people who've said, oh, you teach at the high school? My teaching load is really hard."
Joll had no plans for anyone to know about it until after the season was over and certainly didn't want a fuss made over it.
"At the beginning of the season, my wife (Molly) knew," he said. "Things were getting very frustrating and I have a tendency to vent, so I think I told Gavin (Layman)'s dad. He's friends with Brad Fentress, who was on my first Merrillville team. Then it got to the point where I had to turn in paperwork before January. It was never my intention for anybody to find out. I would've turned in the letter the last possible day I could. I didn't mean that to be a distraction and it didn't seem like it was."
While the timing turned out to be a coincidence, it worked out pretty well as Chesterton had eight state medalists and a champion (Sergio Lemley), making it not only Joll's most accomplished group but one of his favorites for reasons other than wrestling.
"It's a very unique group in that there was no drama," he said. "They're good kids. Honestly, I can say I'm done coaching not because I'm upset with anything that's happened, not because I'm not happy with the way things have gone. They're 13 of the most totally different kids I've ever seen before all getting together to do things the same way. Brandon (Bolin) reached just as much of his potential as the others have, which, to me, is just as good. It's always been the journey, not the destination. It's getting there, then once you're there, you just see what happens."
Ellis would trade the experience for anything.
"It's been pretty awesome," he said. "A lot of people don't get to experience the coach Joll we get to experience. It's completely different in the wrestling room. You've definitely got to know him. Once you do know him, he'll do anything for you. If you ask him for help, he'll help in any way he can as long as you give what you get. If you give him your all, he'll give you his all."
A 1982 Chesterton graduate, Joll was teammates with state champions John Dehart and Jim Popp, who are still involved in the program. He went on to wrestle at Wabash College, where he was a four-year letterwinner. He was back in Chesterton working at the Indiana Dunes State Park when Trojans coach Bob Trzeciak asked him to help out. Joll certainly didn't know it would be something he'd do for the next 30-some years.
Chesterton won state in 1989 and the following year, Joll took an assistant position at Merrillville, where he spent the next six years, four of them as head coach.
"My last year there, I had six (state) qualifiers," he said, listing Montell Pace, Jeremy Schwandt, Ryan Valentine, Jared Tabor, Teddy Umphress and Mike Villanueva. "I loved those guys. I have strong attachments to different kids, but I've had more contact with those guys than probably any other group."
Ted Phillips was Joll's first state qualifier and medalist as a head coach, advancing at 103 pounds in 1994.
"Coach showed me everything I needed to win and win big on the mat," said Phillips, an accountant in Alexandria, Va. "But the bigger things in life are what I really took from him. Great family man, loving husband and dad. He let the seniors take the lead in the room, and would wrangle us in when needed (and I needed it a couple times). He trusted in us, and we tried to live up to that trust. Congratulations on a tremendously successful career in raising men both inside and outside the wrestling room."
Joll came back to Chesterton in 1996 for a better teaching opportunity, first as an assistant. He applied for the head coaching position and didn't get it after another coach abruptly left. A couple years later, while still teaching at Chesterton, he jumped to Valpo to assist John Cook, sitting out one year -- "That was weird," he said. -- following two seasons up the road with the Vikings.
In 2002, Joll became the Trojans' head coach, guiding a consistently successful program that has won seven state straight sectionals, a regional (2018) and two semistates (2017, 2021) since 2015. Chesterton tied for eighth at state last year in addition to its state runner-up showing.
"One thing I try to do is just deal with what we've been given and do the best with it and see what happens," Joll said. "Usually I don't get frustrated when things don't go well. I try not to complain, I try to be like, all right, we're getting put in a hard situation, this is great, we deal with these things really well, it's falling right into our hands."
Like state week, when Joll found out Tuesday there would be no access to the warm-up area in Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
"I came into practice Wednesday, they said, coach, the door's locked; I said, yeah, we're going to practice in the hallway for an hour," he said. "I didn't want us to be surprised. I think it had something to do with us being warmed up and ready to go. Luckily, we had kids down there (to wrestle) at the same time, so they're hand fighting with each other between matches. They responded very well to that."
The result was a perfect first round.
"It was like it wasn't even the state meet," Joll said. "We were just all together, goofing around, beating people."
A night later, Joll and the Trojans were handed the runner-up trophy, though hardware has never been a big deal to him either.
"I told (Hobart coach) Jason Cook we would come to their Super Duals if he promised to make a trophy out of beef jerky," he said. "I'd fight more for beef jerky than a piece of gold plastic. I've got a drawer full of medals I've never passed out. I've had a lot of guys out there who weren't great wrestlers but had great accomplishments, I think, because wrestling is in them, we try to make things right."
Joll recalled a call he received from a program alum deployed with the U.S. Army in Hawaii.
"He was going through field manuevers to get his medic (certification)," Joll said. "He was rushing through it, he finally stopped, and said, I heard you say, stop skipping steps, do one thing at a time. He said he stopped, went back, got it done, and it was all successful. The guy said, you did this wrong, but Chris goes, your thing was in the wrong place. He was right. All you've got to do is do the right thing. If there's a mistake, it's because they made it."
Among his strongest influences, Joll lists Trzeciak, Cameron, Max Servies, his Wabash coach, and Cook.
"I've had a lot of good examples," Joll said. "I learned a lot of things from (Cameron) -- give people their own space; if you can't do it all the way, don't do it at all. Tom did so little about technique, it was ridiculous. It was more about taking an athlete, what they can do, and work with that. He was a very good man. (Trzeciak) never wrestled a day in his life, but was a really good high school coach who stressed technique. We spent so much time on it. He was always coming up with stuff. He was all about drilling, following certain steps. (Servies) was so good as a team, conditioning. He made you want to do things for him. He was a great man. I've been very fortunate."
Joll also credits his wife for helping him incorporate rest concepts into training.
"I never had a concept of what rest meant," he said. "She's really good at the training and resting. It's one of the reasons we've been successful. Semistate week now, we do almost nothing. I've gotten pretty good at finding one kid on the team, asking, how are you feeling today? I use them as my baromoeter. You just can't go hard all the time. She knows more wrestling than a lot of people know. Our daughters do, too."
Ellie Joll is currently working in an Entomology research lab at Purdue, while Tricia is finishing up training to be a registered nurse, living in Mississippi. Molly Joll, also a teacher, will be retiring from the Valparaiso schools in the spring.
"She can't let me run around by myself," Chris said. "We spent two hours looking at campers (Saturday). Our goal is to get one before July. We've got some driving around to do. I'm really interested to see what's going to happen next year when it gets cold out. Are we going to say, let's just get out of here, drive somewhere four hours to a warmer place? I've been putting money away since my first pay check. Tom Cameron took me to Angelo Stath's office, and said this man's going to help you save money. I'll take a break and see it how goes."
With the state tournament over, Joll went home last week with nothing about wrestling to occupy his mind for the first time in ages. He helped with a youth tourney at the high school over the weekend and will open the practice room for wrestlers who want to come work out, but the heavy lifting is done -- for good.
"For the most part, I was relaxed, calm," he said. "It was such a relief for me. I don't want to have to worry about doing anything else. You can't be a wrestling coach and only worry about it during wrestling season. It's the coaches who are at the tournaments in the summer who are successful. There's no two ways about it. I looked at the credentials they have for the new coach, I don't have half of that stuff. The belief is they need someone in the school. You wouldn't believe the amount of time I've spent on non-wrestling things."
Since the new coach in all likelihood will come from outside the school system, Joll plans to distance itself from the program. He isn't leaving the cupboard bare, with four state medalists returning, should they all come back to Chesterton.
"I don't want them to be uncomfortable," he said. "They're trying to give other people the chance to do their things. The best thing they can do is keep letting Alex (Boatright) doing what he's been doing. He's so good. I was contact traced 10 days, he took them to team state, did a couple duals, and it was fine. There are things he's better at than I am."
Eventually, Joll expects to delve deeper into some of the areas of Science he taught at Chesterton.
"I'd like to get more formal training in Science stuff," he said.
The long-time insect enthusiast plans to strengthen his connection with nature that started when he was a kid working at the state park for several years.
"I was thrown outside and told not to come in until dark," he said. "I was always interested in the outdoors, animals. My dad would go to a place in Michigan and tell me to see how many things I could bring back. I got more in tune with insects and photography when Tricia started running and I got a camera. I realized there was some really cool stuff out here. I've found a lot of weird things people haven't seen before, probably 25 species of insects not recorded before just walking around looking for stuff. The Dunes is a convergence of a lot of places. I think I know about as much about the Dunes as the people who work out there. I have a whole different group of people I interact with, with the same interests as me."
No wonder Joll perked up when Ellis mentioned the idea of working with the Department of Natural Resources.
"As soon as told him I was thinking about the DNR, he was instantly saying he could talk to three people about getting me an internship," Ellis said. "That's just the kind of guy he is. I could have said I want to be a grocery bagger, and he'll give you 110 percent the entire time. A lot of people don't have that in a coach. He's more than a wrestling coach. He doesn't just want to see us succeed on the mat, he wants to see us succeed in life. He wants to make us into the best people he possibly can. He's making men, not just wrestlers, people who will hopefully go out and succeed in life."
Assistant Athletic Director Tommy Berry said it will be a challenge to replace Joll in both capacities.
"As great a coach and mentor that coach Joll is in the wrestling room, he is an even better teacher and motivator in the classroom" Berry said. "He teaches many singleton and high- level classes in the Science Department, so this is undoubtedly a huge loss for Chesterton High School on so many levels. You don't replace an outstanding coach, teacher, leader and colleague like that as it will take several individuals to fill the void that he leaves. With that being said, we're very happy for coach Joll and thank him for his many years of service. We wish him nothing but the best in his next adventures in life."
Chris Joll (back row left) is shown with Chesterton's eight state medalists, 'the fr8 train outta Chesterton,' and assistant coach Alex Boatright (back row right). Pictured are (front row from left) Brock Ellis, Hayden DeMarco, Sergio Lemley, (back row) Ethan Kaiser, Aidan Torres, Evan Bates, Gavin Layman and Gage DeMarco. (Photo provided)