Former East Leyden star headed to state wrestling hall of fame
Jeff Pape, who runs the business WrestlingGear.Com in Franklin Park, is being inducted into the Illinois Wrestling Coaches and Officials Hall of Fame. | Buzz Orr~Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 22, 2013 10:34AM
FRANKLIN PARK — Jeff Pape stopped being a wrestler in college but he never lost his enthusiasm for the sport.
He wrestled. He coached wrestling. He started a business selling wrestling equipment. He assists organizations that recognize those involved in wrestling.
On April 20 his efforts will be recognized when he is inducted into the Illinois Wrestling Coaches and Officials Hall of Fame.
“He’s done a lot of things away from the limelight that have helped the sport of wrestling,” said Joe Cliffe, who is chairman of the selection committee for the Illinois Wrestling Hall of Fame.
“He’s a member of the National Hall of Fame Museum selection committee,” Cliffe said. “He served as our webmaster for a few years. He has WrestlingGear.com. He was named man of the year at IWCOHF in 2009.”
Pape grew up on Scott Street in Franklin Park, attended elementary and middle school in Schiller Park and then East Leyden High School.
He started wrestling in fourth grade for the Wolf Pack team, part of the Illinois Kids Wrestling Federation Team. The team practiced at East Leyden High School.
He joined the wrestling team at East Leyden where he made it to the state quarterfinals, though he didn’t place. He graduated in 1990 and started at the University of Illinois at Champagne-Urbana. He joined the wrestling team but after three semesters decided to quit.
“It was a back injury and I kind of saw the writing on the wall,” Pape said. “I didn’t see myself making a living in the wrestling market. My grades were slipping and I wanted to put myself in a good position to be successful.”
He studied accounting, graduated in 1994 and found work as an accountant. Later he started his own accounting business and consulted with Fortune 500 businesses.
Also in 1994 he started coaching the Leyden Raiders, a community team for kids.
“I had no prior experience coaching,” Pape said. “I can still remember the first practice I ever ran. The stuff I thought would take a couple hours took 30 minutes.”
In 1998, he started WrestlingGear.com in the basement of his parent’s house.
“I was talking with one of my tax clients,” Pape said. “He has started an internet-based business. In 1997, the Internet wasn’t readily understood. He gave me some tips and tricks about how to get started.”
He built the business up for three years while continuing to work as an accountant. Then came 2003.
“I quit doing accounting in 2003,” Pape said. “I also got married in 2003. I had a kid in 2003. That’s when I decided to go full-time into wrestling gear. I made a deal with my wife; if I wasn’t making enough money, I would shut down WrestlingGear.com.”
He laughs. “That was a good deal.”
In 2000 he moved the business to a storefront on Grand Avenue in Franklin Park. After several years he moved to a business park in Elmhurst.
“Most of the business is through the website,” Pape said. “We didn’t really need to be in a retail environment and pay retail rent.”
Today the business employs two full-timers and six part-timers. It’s busiest from mid-October to Christmas — the heart of wrestling season.
“Last year was our best year ever,” Pape said. “Previous years are pretty much flat. (Poor economy) has definitely hit our business, like many others.”
He’s also concerned about a decision by the International Olympic Committee to cut wrestling, starting with the 2020 Olympics.
“My concern as a fan and a business owner is if it’s not in the Olympics, it could potentially get cut from college sports,” Pape said. “There’s no NFL or NHL or wrestlers. Its pretty much the Olympics” that wrestlers aspire to.
Pape will be inducted into the Illinois Wrestling Coaches and Officials Hall of Fame in Countryside on April 20. The induction is open to the public. It costs $35, which includes dinner. For more information, contact Joe Cliffe at Jcwrestle5@mchsi.com