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Ellis Coleman, Mike Powell, and the Flying Squirrel

The four-time All-American from Oak Park-River Forest developed one of the most remarkable moves in wrestling—but the story of him and his coach gets more dramatic from there.

When I grew up I was disappointed to learn that wrestling—the sport, not the entertainment—did not have entrance music or dudes with long flowing locks, and people used boring real names and not stuff like The Undertaker. You’d think going by a boss name like The Undertaker would be some small advantage towards winning the gold. I might have been more into it if the Flying Squirrel had existed:

20-year-old Oak Park-River Forest grad Ellis Coleman is one of Chicago’s five Olympians to watch, and not just because he (or, perhaps, his brother) invented the Flying Squirrel. He’s also got a remarkable story:

Then there was the day he walked his route home from Young, near the old Austin High School. Coleman remembers crowds of high schoolers and eighth graders, and he remembers some carrying bats and 2-by-4s. But he says he only turned and ran and found another way home when the shooting started. About then, Barral decided her family had to move. She applied for Section 8 housing — rental assistance for low-income households, basically — and they settled in a three-bedroom Oak Park apartment.

That put Coleman under the wing of Mike Powell, who was recently profiled in Sports Illustrated:

During the day he taught in the emotional-adjustment classroom. Here were some of the roughest kids from Chicago’s West Side—boys who’d been kicked out of OPRF’s behavior-disorder program, who were from gang-affiliated families or had been shunted from one foster home to the next. For most, just being at school was a victory. Powell was supposed to teach them math and science, but instead he held classes in manhood. He talked about what it means to be a father and about the toll of absentee dads. He also taught a lesson on African-American culture, from W.C. Handy to Eazy-E and Wu-Tang Clan. He had the kids write their own eulogies, then asked them to describe their mothers at their funerals.

Here’s Coleman talking about Powell:

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