Michael Poeta quickly learned Clint Arlis was different than just “any other, what you’d consider, a practice guy.”
Poeta, who won three high school national championships and two IHSA state titles at Highwood, and Arliss were practice partners for four years at Illinois.
Poeta went on to become a three-time collegiate All-American, two-time NCAA finalist and two-time Big Ten champion.
It wasn’t possible without Arlis.
“He never stopped coming at you,” said Poeta, who is now the head men’s wrestling coach at Illinois. “All these younger kids, they respected me. I think they maybe feared me in practice and were a little passive. Clint was the opposite.”
“Clint went out there to beat me every single time, and that’s what I needed to get to another level,” Poeta continued. “That’s what I needed for me to accomplish my goals: A guy in our practice room that was willing to push me that hard.”
The 34-year-old Arlis, a beloved son, brother – and one of the most revered wrestlers in Batavia program history – died Jan. 11.
A 2005 Batavia graduate, Arlis is second in Batavia wrestling for career victories (147) and first in career takedowns (437). A three-time state tournament qualifier, Arlis had 41 wins his senior season, and was a three-time conference champion at Batavia.
“With Clint [pushing me], he turned a corner and he started to get really, really good himself,” Poeta said. “It’s really hard for guys to stick it out through a college grind of a season or a career without really getting the notoriety. I was the guy getting it because we were at the same weight class.”
During his collegiate senior year in 2009-10, Arlis earned his way into the Illini starting lineup at 157 pounds and had an individual 14-7 record. Arlis finished seventh at the Big Ten championships and concluded his wrestling career at Illinois with a 37-26 record.
“Clint just persevered. He stuck with it,” Poeta said. “…I think coming into college, if anybody said that Clint was going to be the starter and have as successful as a senior year as he had, I don’t think a lot of people would’ve believed it. Clint was all heart. He gave everything he had every day and he accomplished great things because of it.”
Batavia head wrestling coach Scott Bayer said in a tweet remembering Arlis said that “his legacies as a fierce competitor, tireless worker, a caring influence to younger Batavia wrestlers, a devoted friend and a loving son and brother will resonate far beyond his days in our presence.”
“The word that comes to mind is ‘genuine’,” Bayer said. “The Arlis name is kind of synonymous with Batavia wrestling. [Batavia coach Tom Arlis’] two boys [Clint and Logan] were two of the most accomplished athletes we’ve ever had. … as a person, he was really genuine, really intentional, I felt like.”
Arlis did not officially serve on Bayer’s staff, but he did volunteer coach and worked out a number of wrestlers in the room after moving back from Houston, Texas, in the past year. Logan Arlis is an assistant coach with Bayer.
“He had his dad’s charisma,” Bayer said “His smile would light up a room. He projected confidence. He projected sincerity. He was really funny. He had kind of a quirky, I use the word sardonic sense of humor because he [could] be cunning sometimes but there’s always a warmth. He could cut someone down and be warm about it.”
The Batavia wrestling program has established the Clint Arlis Memorial scholarship to honor his life and impact. The scholarship, which has generated more than $16,000 to date via a GoFundMe, will be “awarded to a graduating senior who competed steadfastly in wrestling throughout their high school career.”
Batavia High School also has renamed its 16-team tournament over the MLK Day weekend as the “Clint Arlis Wrestling Invite. It will be hosted Jan. 14, 2023.
Batavia 182-pound senior Jackson Tonkovich began working with Clint Arlis within the past number of months.
“The first day [Arlis] came in, coach Bayer put me with him. Ever since, every day, we would practice together,” Tonkovich said. “He would watch all my matches if he couldn’t make it and he’d come in and recap what I needed to work on.”
Arlis served as a “big mentor” for Tonkovich.
“He came into the room every day just laughing and ready to work,” Tonkovich said. “When we needed to go hard, he went hard and when we were done, we were always laughing [and] cracking jokes.”
“He was here for us,” Tonkovich continued. “It wasn’t for him. It was for us. He was always working with us and trying to make us better.”
Bayer also remembers Arlis for being an “adventurer” and having a life “that was extremely full.” Arlis in 2015 appeared on the 11th season of the ABC-TV show “The Bachelorette.”
“Going to his wake, you’d look around the room and it’s like if a young ‘most interesting man in the world’ could have a photo gallery, that’s what it was,” Bayer said. “A picture of him skydiving, trout fishing and wrestling in a Division I Big Ten environment. Whatever he did, he was the best at it.”