Legend of Max to continue at Cal Poly

Story Image Lane's Max Schneider (left) celebrates his championship after defeating Glenbard North's Brian Murphy (not pictured) during the 3A 152 weight championship match of the IHSA individual state wrestling tournament in Assembly Hall Saturday, Feb. 18, 2012, in Champaign. | Matthew Grotto~Sun-Times Media

Updated: May 3, 2012 8:10PM

Max Schneider’s life is the stuff of legends, which is not something you can say about a lot of teenagers.

Mark Miedona, Schneider’s wrestling coach at Lane, has seen and heard the stories that sound more like something out of Hollywood than Chicago. The stories of Schneider being offered a free haircut or a milkshake on the house by people familiar with his exploits on the wrestling mat. Or the time when Miedona and Schneider were walking down the street, a police car pulled over, and the officer leaned out the window to say, “Schneider, keep up the good work.”

Just another day in the life of Schneider. He has been a ­transformational athlete in his four seasons at Lane, the kind of kid the Public League needed to show itself and everyone else that big dreams can come true, no matter what the odds.

Despite never having wrestled a match before he got to high school, Schneider beat a future Olympian — Oak Park-River ­Forest’s Ellis Coleman — in the state semifinals as a freshman en route to a second-place finish. Competing with one good shoulder, he won state as a sophomore, ending Lane’s 64-year title drought. After missing the individual state series as a junior with more shoulder issues — but making a dramatic return for the team quarterfinals — Schneider wrapped up his career in February by becoming the Public League’s first two-time state champ in 59 years.

Now Schneider has written another chapter in his story, announcing this week he’ll continue his wrestling career at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo. A recent addition to the NCAA Division I ranks, the Mustangs are a member of the Pac-12 for wrestling and were tied for 16th in the final Wresting International News (WIN) Magazine rankings for 2011-12.

“The offer, at first, seemed a ­little too good to be true,” Schneider said. “The campus, the coach, the team, the atmosphere — when I went to go visit, it all clicked.”

His decision came down to Illinois and Cal Poly, and the West Coast school won out even though Schneider’s family would have seen a lot more of him had he gone the Big Ten route. But, then, globetrotting is nothing new for Schneider, who has traveled all over the U.S. and beyond for years to compete in his other sport: judo.

He plans to continue down both those paths even as he moves up the competitive ladder. Not far from Cal Poly is a large, prestigious judo club in San Jose, where Schneider plans to train during wrestling’s offseason.

The dream is to make the Olympics, maybe in 2016, maybe in 2020. Will it be in judo? Will it be in wrestling? It seems ridiculous that anyone could have a shot at reaching that level in two sports when so few athletes have the ­ability to even consider it in one.

But Schneider is not your average athlete by any standards, especially in a sport that hasn’t been a Public League specialty since the 1950s. As his high-school days wound down, it’s something he was able to reflect upon.

“As a child, you envision, ‘That would be really cool; that would be awesome if that happened,’” Schneider said. “This is my ­childhood goal: winning state titles for my high school, winning a D-1 ride to a school in California.”

His goals remain big: All-American recognition, eventually an NCAA title in wrestling, perhaps bookending a run at a spot on the U.S. judo team for the 2016 Olympics.

Can it be the next chapter in Schneider’s story, the one that seems too crazy to be true?

“I’ve been accused of making up my story before,” he said. “I’ve had people say, ‘I wrestled with you in fourth grade in Palatine.’ But I went to a public school in Chicago at the time.”

And he didn’t wrestle then. But now he does, and he’s proof that feel-good stories happen in real life and not just in the movies.

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