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Joliet Central's Reed makes it big in St. Louis
Lewis Reed's success in life hasn't been a matter of picking himself up off the mat to go on to greatness.
The current president of the Board of Aldermen for the City of St. Louis was a wrestler at Joliet Central High School, but he didn't spend much time picking himself up after a match. A mainstay of the Steelmen teams of the late 1970s and early '80s, he moved to the varsity as a freshman and wound up earning a third-place trophy in the state competition in his senior year.
"I went through a transformation as a person in those years," Reed said. "The lessons that Coach Mac (Eural McLaughlin) taught are the same lessons I used to get where I am today. He said everything in life is a matter of preparation and execution, and I've never forgotten that."
Reed, now 45 and well over the 155-pound weight class in which he used to compete, had to prepare himself to unseat a better-funded, better-known 20-year incumbent to win the election for the second most powerful position in St. Louis government. His campaign signs were blue and gold in tribute to his days as a Steelman.
"I came from Gompers (Junior High) and as a freshman I had my experience from grade school wrestling, starting in sixth grade," he said. "Right away, I started working to meet Coach Mac's expectations, but it wasn't until I lost my final match as a junior that the transformation really began.
"Coach told me, sure, that kid you lost to was good, but you could be so much better. He told me the next step was the mental preparation. So, that summer I ran every other day, farther and farther. I lifted weights. I committed myself. And when I walked out on that mat as a senior, I expected to win every match."
McLaughlin expected Reed's success, as well. Before they went to the state competition, he bought a new suit, just for walking out with Reed when the champions were crowned.
"I never wore that suit," McLaughlin admitted in a phone conversation with Reed. "I wound up giving it to charity. It had just one purpose: to celebrate with you."
"Well, maybe you ought to get it back," Reed said. "If you ever come to St. Louis, I'm going to make sure you get the key to the city and you'll want to look good."
"Well, it might not fit, even if I could find it," McLaughlin countered. "But I might just take you up on that visit. There is nothing I enjoy more than seeing my kids take my lessons and make them work as life skills."
Reed and his family lived at 427 Williamson back in the '70s and '80s and there were other enticements for a young man less devoted to his sport.
"It would have been easier to hang around with some of the guys, riding motorcycles or scooters," he said. "But I was working nearly 30 hours a week as a janitor at the mall. I was working out and trying to keep my grades up. I was too busy for all the other things."
After graduating from JT in 1981, Reed turned his wrestling skills into a full-ride athletic scholarship at Southern Illinois University, where he earned his degree in math and computer science. He went into private industry and eventually advanced to the manager of data networks for a large health services provider in the St. Louis area.
In 1998, he decided to run for Alderman and, after winning office, he went on to serve as the chairman of the St. Louis Port Authority and the co-chairman of the city's Ways and Means Committee. He co-chaired the hearings on building the Cardinals' new park and initiated the Bike St. Louis cycling promotion.
As the new president of the Board of Aldermen, Reed is one of three state and local officials charged with reorganizing the St. Louis school system. He manages an $800-million annual budget.
With all that on his agenda, Reed still has time for thoughts of Joliet.
"I remember those guys from the wrestling room: Jeff Shirley, Steve Widlowski, Matt Limon and all my teammates. I remember Mark Trizzino was a state champ a couple years earlier and he used to come back and work us," he recalled.
"I remember working odd jobs. I remember doing those floors out at the Louis Joliet Mall in those days. I enjoyed the work and I would challenge myself to do it better, do it faster, do more. That was something that Coach Mac drilled into us and I guess it's still in me and probably a lot of the other kids who took his lessons to heart."
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