Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2013, 6:39 pm

E-P wrestling coach McCullough keeps the fire going

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By Daniel Makarewicz,

More photos from this shoot
Photo: Paul Colletti
Erie-Prophetstown wrestling coach Tod McCullough gives instructions during the Bob Mitton-Orion Invitational on Jan. 18. McCullough has been a volunteer firefighter and first responder with the Erie Fire Department for nine years.
ERIE --Asked to became an Erie volunteer firefighter nine years ago, Tod McCullough first had to get approval from his wife, Laura, before accepting the offer and subsequent duties.

Evidently, getting the approval did not require much convincing.

"I was still young enough and able," said McCullough, the Erie-Prophetstown wrestling coach. "I said if my family was in danger, would you not want someone like me going?"

Hearing those words made it known this venture had to be done.

"It was something he wanted to do," Laura said. "If he could do it, then do it."

Nine years later, McCullough remains a Firefighter II Certified as a volunteer in the small Whiteside County community. He also is a first responder, a duty he added five years that brings 12-hour shifts.

Keep in mind McCullough is a full-time Erie High School teacher and its wrestling coach. Oh, he is the fire department's treasurer as well.

"I do what I need to for our community," McCullough said. "Our community has been great for us."

No wonder he embraces all of this commitment.

During wrestling season, McCullough does not work the first responder shifts. Other than that, he can go straight from class or practice to the scene of a fire. A few weeks ago, he was nearing an interview with The Dispatch and the Rock Island Argus before being called to a fire in Fulton on a Monday night.

Even during the day, the school allows him to leave if a firefighter is needed at a structure fire or car accident.

"It's not the happiest world when I don't get sleep at night," McCullough said. "There are nights where I've been on a fire all night and come here and teach. But it's a commitment that's needed."

McCullough says he's happy if he gets six hours of sleep during the wrestling season. On nights where that does not happen, he still tackles each responsibility with an enthusiasm that allows him to effectively handle them all.

What helps is the support of those around him and the fact the fire station is one block from his home. Whenever he gets a call while at home, he runs down the street.

There is even talk of putting a fire pole in his home.

"I like doing things," McCullough said. "I do it for the community -- that's my biggest thing."

Calling himself a "go-getter," McCullough gets after it when he's called. Knowing what this job means to those in the community, the sense of duty overshadows any fear. There are obvious risks involved, but not enough to keep him away from a fire or accident.

That does not mean all days are good days.

"I've been in places where I haven't been comfortable," McCullough said. "But there was somebody in there or something we had to get to. We have a good department -- they know when to pull us out."

Each call brings a different set of circumstances, with McCullough, whose assistant coach Bob Garcia recently retired from the department, saying there are nerves and anxiety with each call. Nine years with the department and constant training courses, though, calm the fears and bring him home safely each day.

For now, he will continue all his responsibilities. McCullough said the mandatory retirement age is 62, so he has 16 more years left with the fire department.

Twenty-five years seems like a long time tackling this endeavor, but it is not the hardest job he has.

In his mind, that would be a wrestling coach.

"I know what fire can do, and I know how to control it," McCullough said. "Kids, you never know which way they're coming."

Prep wrestling notebook

McGhee, Nelson perfect again: For the second consecutive season, Rock Island 120-pound senior B.J. McGhee and Mercer County 152-pound senior Zach Nelson enter postseason with perfect records. 

"Amazing," said McGhee, who is 36-0 this season and carries a 145-14 career record into Saturday's Class 2A Rock Island Regional. "I wish (last year) would have ended in a state title, but I'm going to get it this year."

Nelson pushed his career record to 152-15 with a 31-0 regular season.

"But I can't settle with just an undefeated season," Nelson said. "New season starts Saturday (at the Class 1A Sherrard Regional) and I just have to stay focused on my main goal. I was undefeated this time last year and things didn't end the way I wanted them to, so I just can't let that happen again."

This 'n' that: Moline 285-pound junior Adarios Jones did not wrestle against Galesburg in the Western Big 6 Conference quadrangular on Saturday. Jones missed the match because he entered the day with 20 dual bouts. Illinois High School Association rules stipulate a wrestler may not have more than 21 dual matches. Jones did wrestle the second dual against Quincy, earning a first-period fall. ... Alleman 182-pound junior Connor Doak confirmed on Friday he will miss the rest of the season because of a shoulder injury sustained earlier this month. ... A scoring error in last Saturday's Northern Illinois Big 12 Conference meet led to a new champion. A statement from Sycamore athletic director Chauncey Carrick, whose school hosted the tournament, said "wrestlers in the quarterfinals and first-round wrestlebacks who did not wrestle in a pigtail were not scored using the Double Bonus Rule. Once this error was discovered, the tournament was rescored." The error meant the champion and runner-up were changed, giving the title to Yorkville and second place to Sycamore. Geneseo still remained third.