Mark King’s coaching career started at a familiar place.
King, who has been a wrestling and football coach in some capacity at Lyons Township for 50 years, grew up in DeKalb. He was a three-sport star for the Barbs and wrestled at Michigan.
In 1968, King was preparing to compete for the Wolverines’ wrestling team in the prestigious Midlands Tournament, held at Lyons Township.
Little did King realize his life would change with his acceptance of a coaching and teaching position at Lyons, where he spent three-plus decades teaching and five decades coaching. King influenced a countless number of students, helping them carve out a better athletic and professional career and life.
All these years later, King can’t help but note the irony of where he started his coaching and professional career.
“The first time I walked into Lyons was in Christmas of 1968,” King recalled. “I walked into the locker room, which is really not much different than now. I could tell it was a big school and looked like a college, including with facilities.”
Four years later, King accepted a teaching position and assistant wrestling job. He started coaching football in 1975, beginning a two-sport journey that would span four-plus decades and lead to countless memories and coaching several family members.
King, who retired from teaching in 2005, completed his 50th year on the wrestling staff this season. He’s served as an assistant since 2005 and has been either the head freshmen or sophomore football coach since 1985.
He’s become an institution within an institute, teaching young men to work hard and steering them toward success on the mat, on the football field and in life.
Lyons athletic director John Grundke experienced a full-circle relationship with King.
Grundke, a Lyons graduate, met King when Grundke was a freshman on the football team. King, a 2002 Illinois Wrestling Coaches and Officials Association Hall of Fame inductee, was the head freshmen football coach at the time.
“It’s very strange how things worked out,” Grundke said. “I loved him as a coach, and loved working with him these past 17 years. He hasn’t changed. He’s got a very distinctive voice. You always know where you stand with him. He says kids keep me young and physically active. It’s incredible to anybody he has coached for 50 years.”
Grundke said King’s reach has extended to numerous families in the La Grange area. King has been a fixture at the Lyons campus and in the community and helped countless teachers, coaches and students, Grundke said.
King’s impact – unlike his coaching record – is immeasurable.
“He’s mentored a ton of coaches in different sports,” Grundke said. “He’s had relationships with different sports, and he’s been great for the community, school and kids. Coach [King] has touched so many people. He embodies what we teach at Lyons.”
King has experienced several memorable moments in his coaching and teaching position. He led the Lions to a third-place trophy in the state wrestling dual meet in 1992, the highest placing in school history. His 1983-84 wrestling team was another of his all-time favorites. Four wrestlers won individual state championships, including two-time winners Bill Zeman and Will Lepsi.
Ryan McMurray, a 2003 Lyons graduate who was a standout wrestler and football player, said King taught him many valuable lessons. McMurray was a four-year wrestling starter in college at Augustana.
“If I look at all the different mentors and coaches I’ve had from a young age to high school, college and beyond, outside of my own father, Coach King is right at the top of the list as far as being influential,” McMurray said. “He taught us to work hard, and the understanding of what you need to do to be tough. I saw that in wrestling and football. You always knew where you stood with Coach King. He demanded a lot from his athletes. He wears his emotions on his sleeves. He wanted to empower his athletes to get the most out of them.”
McMurray said one of his fondest memories in high school was helping lead the Lyons to a West Suburban Silver championship and winning regionals. King, McMurray said, was a powerful and caring coach.
“Coach King would fight for you,” McMurray said. “He was hot tempered because he cared. You felt good as a wrestler and football player because he always had your best interests. We’ve always had a good relationship, from friends to a mentor to a coach-athlete relationship. Coach King was my freshmen football coach. He set the tone for me coming into high school. He was really good at connecting with his athletes.”
At Lyons, King is a bigger-than-life personality. His son, Matt, ended then-defending state champion Mike Vakos’ 67-match winning streak in 1993. King has coached two sons and three of his grandchildren in football and wrestling. Two of his grandchildren currently are attending Lyons.
For King, it’s been a family affair in many aspects in his storied career at Lyons.
“It’s been so much fun to be a coach at LT,” King said. “I’ve had great kids and unbelievable support from the administration and community. I’ve always enjoyed working with the kids. I’ve been doing the youth wrestling program for umpteenth years. I’ve enjoyed it and loved teaching. Everything really worked out well for me.”