Heckman wins on mats, in classroom

By Gregory Janicki

Being a student-athlete at a Division I university is not the easiest thing to do.

But NIU wrestler Mel Heckman has proved that he can hit the books as hard as he can hit his opponents.

Besides posting a 9-6 record last season, which included five pins, Heckman managed to earn the No. 1 academic ranking in NIU’s freshman class. Such an accomplishment is one that surprised the sophomore.

“I was really nervous coming into college,” said Heckman. “I knew that I could do well at both wrestling and in my studies. But I was afraid that wrestling would interfere with my schoolwork.

“Doing well academically is my top priority. I’m glad that I was able to do both.”

Heckman spent most of last season moving back and forth between weight classes. He started the season wrestling in the 190-pound weight class but was utilized often at heavyweight. Head coach Ed Vatch was impressed with the way Heckman handled himself.

“I’m really proud of what Mel was able to accomplish,” said Vatch. “A lot of times you see athletes put academics by the wayside. But with my team, I explain to them that school comes first and fortunately they all understand that.”

Next semester, Heckman will apply to the school of business, a move that will increase his academic load a great deal. But the Libertyville High School standout is ready for the challenge.

“I realize that acceptance to the school of business will mean that I have to work harder than I am right now,” explained Heckman. “But I think that I’m ready for the move. Right now I carry between fifteen and seventeen hours a semester and a class load like that has prepared me somewhat.”

Heckman will compete this season at 190-pounds again, with little chance of being used at heavyweight, allowing him to focus on one weight class.

“Wrestling at only one class makes it easier to devote my time well. Last season, splitting my time didn’t allow me to concentrate on particular opponents.”

Heckman’s season started Sunday at Northwestern where he posted a 1-1 record. Not bad for a guy who competes as well on the mat as he does in the classroom.