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‘Daddy day care’: IU wrestling head coach learns to handle life away from sports



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IU wrestling coach Angel Escobedo cheers on IU on Feb. 2 at Wilkinson Hall. With the remainder of the wrestling season canceled, Escobedo has gone from coaching players to coordinating his own "daddy day care." Joy Burton

Angel Escobedo has a new job now. One that doesn’t require countless hours in a wrestling room dripping in sweat. Instead, he coordinates a small but daunting program he dubbed "Daddy day care.”

The IU wrestling season is over. The schools are closed, and the YMCA’s are deserted. That means the head coach is home with his kids: Malachi, 4, Saniyah, 3, and Zoe, 1. 

He picks up assignments from pre-school. He colors pictures of the Little Mermaid. He helps them learn to count. Malachi is up to 30 and Saniyah has reached 15. They’ve been revisiting the ABC’s. 

He’s played a lot of Bad Guy. Malachi and Saniyah dress up in their new Power Ranger costumes and Escobedo, 33, and his kids go tearing around the house as he pretends to take away their superpowers. Malachi and Saniyah finally catch their enemy and send him to jail — a corner in the house. 

He is a four-time All-American, three-time Big Ten champion and NCAA national champion. When he is in jail, his kids beat him up. 

His wife Pauli, who’s swamped with work at home, yells at the misfits to calm down.

Sometimes Escobedo thinks being at home is more exhausting than running a collegiate program. Nothing has been broken yet. But there’s still time.

On the night of March 23 in the Escobedo household, the coach couldn’t hold back anymore. Malachi climbed onto Escobedo’s lap and caught him staring at his screen watching wrestling.

So it was decided. Escobedo had been off the mat long enough. He wanted to show Malachi some moves so he could become a better Power Ranger. Escobedo called in Pauli and demonstrated a two-legged takedown on her, followed by a front headlock.

IU wrestling coach Angel Escobedo's children play. Due to the wrestling season being canceled, Escobedo coordinated his own "daddy day care." Courtesy Photo

Then it was Malachi’s turn. He drove Escobedo onto the ground as he mirrored his father’s maneuvers. Saniyah yelped in delight, signaling a 4-year-old’s triumph over one of the most decorated wrestlers in IU history.

Escobedo still has to leave the house sometimes to make the short drive to his office for recruiting. 

“It’s hard to make recruiting calls with three kids screaming in the background,” Escobedo said.

He goes into his Assembly Hall bunker and gets some work done on his desktop. That’s where he was on March 12 when he found out the national championships were canceled. 

The coronavirus epidemic forced the NCAA to cancel the college wrestling national championships that were set for March 19-21. The Hoosiers’ redshirt freshman Graham Rooks at 149 pounds and junior Liam Cronin at 125 pounds both qualified for the competition, but no one was permitted back on the mat after the NCAA’s ruling.

Escobedo said the first thing he thought about was the athletes. Rooks and Cronin were scheduled to make their first appearance at nationals, while the other IU wrestlers planned to use their time to make improvements of their own.

The next day, Escobedo called a team meeting.

“In this present moment, it seemed like everything stopped, but in reality next year is going to come,” Escobedo said. “If you sit back and let the days go by, next thing you know five years go by and you wish you had more time.”

Escobedo sends wrestling videos to his team in a group chat every morning or night. He points out what they should be looking for and how to get better. But the reality for Escobedo and coaches around the country is that training routines are out of their control for the time being. 

"Once you start to study wrestling and see what they do in terms of tactics and techniques, that will help wrestling on the mat," IU assistant coach Mike Dixon said. "We'd rather them watch wrestling videos than binge watch a show on Netflix and gain 30 pounds."

Even during uncertain times, Escobedo tries to look at the positives. In IU’s 2-10 record this season, he emphasized how proud he was of his team after almost every match. So now, during the upswing of a pandemic, he’s still finding the positives. He gets to spend time with his family when he would normally be on the road.

Back at home, his new prospects are on the small side, but they’re quick. They lack discipline, but they have a raw tenacity.  

“I’m going to be a better Power Ranger now,” Malachi said.

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