Q&A: Octavius Bellamy: Making High School Wrestling Shine Bright
The Chicago Defender had a candid conversation with Assistant Coach for the Oak Park River Forest High School Wrestling team Octavius Bellamy. He’s an integral part of the wrestling coach staff in the Western suburb—a husband, a father and a proud member Omega Psi Phi, Inc.
His story is inspirational and uplifting to many students who had the pleasure of being coached and mentored by Coach Bellamy. He is celebrating his 10th year with the high school and the three-time defending Class 3A champion state title. They are currently in the middle of Dual Team Sectionals, so it’s been a busy season for the coach.
How did you become a wrestling coach and teacher?
In 2002, one of my frat brothers had called me and told me that another frat brother at Englewood H.S. needed an assistant coach. I had been doing social services jobs, so I had my degree and was still looking for a niche. They knew I was a wrestler. I wrestled in college at Chicago State U. I went up there and he ended up quitting that year, the school hired me as a full-time coach. I worked there for three years–that was my first coaching job.
Was CSU your main collegiate institution?
I’m from Miami originally. I came up here on a wrestling scholarship and never been up in Chicago. I was at the national tournament for juniors and seniors. A coach came up to me after a loss. I was bummed out. He said he liked my spirit and offered me a scholarship to go to CSU. I didn’t even know anything about the school and said, ‘Yes!’ I’ve been here ever since.
What town were you born and raised in?
Miami, Fla. I’m from there. I attended Miami Carroll City Senior High.
To have that conversation with a coach from CSU from up North, was there any other schools that had prospected you?
I was a D3 college in Minnesota, I had signed a ‘letter of intent’ to go there but they did without legal consent from my mom. They didn’t hold me to it when I got another offer from a D1 college, University of Minnesota-Lawrence.
How many African-Americans are really involved with the wrestling sport?
It’s a lot of wrestlers of color. When I got into it I didn’t know the sport was as big as it was. The trend has been being that it’s a white boy sport, but there are so many African-Americans in the sport.
While you’re attending CSU, what was your influence on balance both personal and studies? When young people are away from familiar surroundings and away from home, they can get caught up.
I did. My first year, I was 17, I was in Chicago and the first time on my own. I was just learning myself and I went down that road. I had freedom for the first-time, I started hanging out and trying to be ‘cool.’ Coach Derrick Hardy told me if I didn’t get my grades right, he would send me back to Florida. There was no way I could go back to Florida. My mom had moved to a rural, small town from Miami. I knew I couldn’t stay with her in my senior year in high school, so I moved with my aunt in Miami.
I graduated with the BA in Psychology. I wanted to take a break and began to do social work, which were the only jobs that seemed available.
When got into it and I figured out this is very hard. I guess depressing work, you start to see and the life stories. How hard people have it–do I really want to pursue this? I didn’t want to pursue it. I was a permanent sub at Englewood and I was a wrestling coach for the rest of the year.
So, I went back to get my master’s in 2005-06. I became a student-teacher at Oak Park River Forest High School. I was going to National-Louis University and they assigned me a school near me. As soon as I got into the building, they found out that I was a wrestling coach. I had finished with Englewood H.S. in 2005 and was doing my assistant coaching at Triton College.
Since I was there and they knew what my goals were. Coach Powell was the coach at the time and he was happy to have me. He heard good things about me around the circuit and would love to welcome me on the coaching staff.
It was about being in the right place at the right time with the right degree. Also, the right sport. It was kind of perfect.
What are the benefits being a wrestling coach and what are the challenges?
The benefits you get to help kids. Wrestling for me changed my life. I was a kid from inner-city Miami and didn’t have a lot of aspirations as far as seeing the world. I wanted to be a fireman. All of a sudden, I get into this sport and it changed my life. I should give back and that’s one of the big benefits–having kids and letting them dream. ‘Hey man, this right here can change your life. You can go get a degree, you can take care of your family. You can travel the world if you want. You can be a champion.’
Every young kid wants to be a champion. That’s one of the big things you can be as part of the success. If they’re not champions, you just help them learn the value of hard work. Setting your goals and putting your all into it. I think those are some of the benefits — molding men is one of the biggest benefits.
The challenges are finding a way to reach different kids. They are changing now. When I was young, you did something because an adult said it. Now, because you said it, it doesn’t work anymore. What is this kid’s values? You must find a different way to communicate. That’s the biggest challenge. Trying to find a way to reach different kids–it’s not a cookie-cutter program anymore.
Trying to get them accountable for something bigger than themselves–trying to get a kid to see pass that. You can’t just eat candy and pizza, you’re an athlete. You can’t stay up all night playing video games and then come to an early morning practice to give it your all. You should go to school and get decent grades–B’s and A’s to go to these schools. They don’t care if you’re just a good wrestler. To get them to grow up fast to accept the big amount of responsibility to play one of the hardest sports. It’s not a lot of fanfare. The workouts are private, nobody is cheering you on–a lot of private time.
How many students go off to college on scholarships?
A lot of them. We had about 13 seniors last year that went off to different schools–not all D1. Some Division 2-3, junior colleges. Most of our D-1 guys received some form of a scholarship. Division 2 don’t give scholarships, they may receive academic waivers. We have a couple D-3 scholarships. Some in junior college to get their grades up to go on to become a D-1. We’ve been very successful–some of our guys are in Big 10. Some chose football–University of Indiana.
Lastly, how do you create balance between being a coach, a teacher and your personal life?
(He laughs) You want to talk to my wife and say that it is balanced. I try to be present in the time that I have. I think that’s one of the big lessons that I’ve learned. If I’m at home, then I’m focusing on my family. I try to enjoy that time and make sure they know, I’m there so that I’m not half in and half out. When at school, I’m doing school work–watching videos–and making sure I’m taking work home.
We have two kids together. She has a seven-and six-year-old and then we have a two-year-old and a nine-month old. Then I have a 13-year-old that comes every other weekend.
When I’m in practice, I’m trying to give my all to those guys. I’m an assistant coach, I’m not going to be the coach to reach out to after hours. When I get home, I have four kids and a wife that I must dedicate my time to. That’s been my biggest thing–take care of your responsibilities when you’re there so that one doesn’t bleed into the other. That’s been my recipe in balancing everything.