Police Chief by Day, Wrestling Coach by Night
For Ferndale's Tim Collins, volunteering as a wrestling coach is all about the kids.
Maybe it's the whistle around his neck. His "be good," no-nonsense look. That stern "Hey!" bark. Or it might just be the tough-guy haircut.
Whatever the reason — take your pick — Ferndale Police Chief Tim Collins has a commanding presence on this early Friday evening as he watches his Ferndale Eagles Wrestling Club athletes weigh in and practice at the Ferndale High School gym.
Here, he is Coach Collins, not the chief of police, and it's a role he volunteers for.
The payoff, he said, is obvious.
"You impact on the kids' lives," Collins said. "You are physically making a difference. We're teaching self-reliance and achievement."
On this particular Friday, loud music blares from a school dance in the lobby as the young wrestlers lug and push mats around on the basketball floor. There are 50 teen and preteen wrestlers running about, spirits high, all smiles, excited to start the season Sunday with a meet in Macomb County.
Collins, 52, and others are here on this night to ready their wrestlers for battle.
Being chief by day and coach by night taxes Collins' time. But he said it's worth it because he loves kids. He loves the sport of wrestling. He loves being an involved dad as a coach to his 13-year-old wrestler, Daniel.
And he loves his hometown of Ferndale, where he was a league heavyweight wrestling champion as a Ferndale High senior in 1976-77.
Coaching wrestlers from Ferndale, Detroit, Highland Park, Oak Park, Pleasant Ridge, Royal Oak and Royal Oak Township has become a labor of love that Collins has no intention of giving up. It's been too rewarding for him these past six years, he said.
And all he had to do to get the job was ask head coach John Olson, "Do you need help?" It was that simple.
"This is such a great sport," Collins tells a visitor, fighting back a big smile as a sweat spot grows under the neckline of his T-shirt. "There is an 'I' in team with wrestling. You can win as a team and have camaraderie, and at the same time, you are the one who you have to count on."
John Bassier, who coached Collins at Ferndale High in the 1970s, said he knew even then that the young man would achieve hallmark success one day. And he knew even then that Collins has the attributes to be a great coach.
"He has good determination and a good attitude," Bassier said. "And when he was on the (prep) team, he never missed a practice."
Charlie Morgan, head coach of the Ferndale High School wrestling team for 15 years, said Olson's team of wrestlers — ages 4 to 14 — has become a consistent feeder team for the middle school and high school programs. He credits Olson and Collins with being key to the development of exceptional wrestlers in the city.
The Ferndale Eagles also have tapped into talent from Detroit proper, which has no high school wrestling program.
"When kids have training before high school, it really helps when they get here because they already understand the fundamentals," Morgan said.
Of the five Ferndale High School kids who went to the state tournament in 2009, three of them came from the wrestling club.
"(Coach Collins) is a dedicated guy who is focused on taking care of tasks," he said. "And he's got a way about him. He's easy to talk to."
State qualifier Josh Young, 12, calls Collins a "great coach." Josh, a fresh-faced, 79-pound sixth-grader from Ferndale, can hardly contain his exuberance in handing out praise after the coach walks away for a moment to tend to a few wrestlers who need to get ready for the weigh-in.
"He always listens to me, and that makes me pay close attention to him," Josh said. "He helps me learn things fast."
Another state qualifier, T.J. McDonald, 11, a classmate of Josh's at Coolidge Intermediate in Ferndale, enjoys wrestling on the team "because it's so rough, I get to let out my anger."
Collins makes it fun, T.J. said. At the same time, Collins has taught T.J. a life lesson: "I am not supposed to quit. Ever. So I don't," T.J. said.
Mark Ballard, a machinist who works in Madison Heights whose 10-year-old son, Matt, a 90-pound fifth-grader at Coolidge, is beginning his third wrestling season, likes the discipline Collins demands.
Such focus is paramount because Olson has given Collins the task of instilling the most rudimentary of fundamentals in these budding wrestlers.
"He's stern with the kids, and they respect him," said Ballard, 48, of Ferndale. "When they're monkeying around, he makes them pay attention and learn. He keeps (my son) in line with his voice. He knows what to do with his voice — it gets your attention — and he knows what to say."
Matt doesn't think coach is harsh. He thinks patience makes Collins a terrific teacher.
"When I do something wrong, he helps me get it right," Matt said.
Olson said it's rewarding to coach a program that has so many quality people. He has run the show since 1995 and coached for two decades in Hazel Park before that.
"Coach Collins has made this program much better just by being here," said Olson, also citing the good work of the other assistant coaches, Jeff Taub, Adolf Lane and Ted Buckner.
"He is great at teaching the basics," Olson said. "It's important to us because we're teaching kids not to do bad habits."
Children between the ages 4-14 can sign up to the program any weeknight after 6:30 at the Ferndale High School gym. There is a registration fee of $6. It's open to all kids in the area.