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Clark: Time is right for Mike Powell to step down at Oak Park

Mike Powell wants to keep coaching, which is why he resigned this month as Oak Park-River Forest’s coach.

It makes sense, really.

Powell, who has helped make the Huskies one of the top programs in the country, has been thinking about stepping down for a while. Probably since he was diagnosed five years ago with polymyositis, a rare disease that has sapped his strength and forced him to make some hard choices.

One option would be to keep his old job and try to keep soldiering on. Another is to accept he can’t do some of the things he used to and focus his energy on what’s really important. No surprise, Powell picked the latter.

Powell is one of the most intense coaches you will ever see in a sport that has more than its share. His fiercely emotional style fits in well at Oak Park, which makes sense given he was a great wrestler there himself, winning a state title in 1994.

Senior state champ Davonte Mahomes spoke for many current and former Huskies when he was asked what Powell meant to the program after Oak Park beat Marist in this year’s Class 3A state final.

“The world,” Mahomes said. “Coach Powell is like a father figure on top of him being a doctor and everything else that he thinks he is. I love coach Powell as if he was my father.”

Powell’s perseverance is an inspiration for the Huskies every single day, according to Mahomes.

“He’s sick, he’s always tired,” Mahomes said. That has wrestlers thinking, “we can easily do this workout, we can easily do this because coach Powell is tired right now. He could be home chilling.”

There is some chilling in Powell’s future, but he won’t be going anywhere. He plans to remain on the Huskies staff under his successor, and looks forward to do as much hands-on coaching as he ever did.

What will change is the time he spent dealing with off-the-mat issues.

“To be honest with you, I don’t want to have to do the administrative duties anymore,” he said. “I want to be back coaching wrestling.”

The time feels right for a variety of reasons. The Huskies, who won their second title under Powell and were ranked No. 2 nationally, could be even better next year with most of their stars back and a promising freshman class on the horizon.

Plus, the foundation is in place on the coaching side.

“I’ve been waiting for our assistants to learn the system,” Powell said. “We’ve been waiting for these guys to be ready.

“Our goal — and I’m pretty confident you’ll be able to see this — you won’t see a difference.”

You can see a difference in Powell from before he was stricken with polymyositis till now.

Despite getting serious about his health — eating right, avoiding alcohol, getting enough sleep — Powell said, “I don’t have the juice I had.

“… When you lose a muscle, it’s like a brain cell — you don’t get it back. I’m not aging like a normal person.”

There isn’t much that’s normal or average about Mike Powell’s life, from his health to the loyalty he inspires in his wrestlers to the success he’s had as a competitor and a coach.

But that’s why it’s good that he’s not walking away entirely. The Huskies need him and so does the sport of wrestling.