Since taking over Perry Meridian High School’s wrestling team in 1996, Jim Tonte has turned the Falcons into one of the top programs in the state. Perry Meridian won three consecutive state titles under Tonte and captured prestigious national tournaments in the offseason.
Off the mat, Tonte helped create a family atmosphere within the Perry Meridian wrestling program. That, combined with the program’s sustained success, made Tonte’s recent decision to leave the Falcons for the same job at Warren Central one of the most difficult of his life.
“I don’t know how people are going to take this, but other than burying both my parents, this is the toughest thing I’ve ever had to do,” Tonte said. “But I knew all along it was the right thing to do. I made the decision based on what I need to do for my family.”
Tonte moves from a school with an enrollment of just under 2,300 to one with more than 3,700. His resume is impressive. In addition to winning state titles in 2011, ’12 and ’13, Tonte guided the Falcons to 16 sectional, 15 regional and eight semistate titles. But Warren Central athletic director Marques Clayton said his school wanted Tonte for more than just his championships.
“His ability to connect and build life-long relationships with all kids is what makes him a perfect fit for Warren Township,” Clayton said. “Jim and his wife Tina treat every student-athlete and coach as an extension of their immediate family. Everything is a family affair, and our student-athletes will benefit greatly from Jim and Tina as role models and mentors.”
Tonte replaces Danny Williams, whom Clayton said took a sales job in Minnesota; Williams wrestled for the University of Minnesota and was part of a national championship team there. Williams, who won state titles in 2001 and 2002 as a Warren wrestler, guided the Warriors to the team state quarterfinals in 2012 and coached the team to sixth-, seventh- and 16th-place finishes at state the past three seasons.
“Danny cares deeply about (Warren Central), the wrestling program, his student-athletes, and the east side,” Clayton said. “In six years, (he) has rebuilt Warren Central back into a top-five program in the state of Indiana.”
Tonte will teach business at Warren Central and said the opportunity to mentor students at the school’s Walker Career Center was a big factor in his decision.
“I was unbelievably impressed with what the Walker Career Center has to offer,” Tonte said of the facility that offers 23 programs that utilize state-of-the-art equipment and technology that meet or exceed industry standards. “What Warren Central has to offer, not just in athletics but in academics … is obviously very diverse. It’s a great opportunity.”
Tonte said he will move his family to the east side. That includes one of his sons, Tristen, who finished second in the state in wrestling at 195 pounds last winter. As a sophomore, Tristen also started at quarterback, passing for 1,359 yards and running for 892. He moves to a football program that has won six state titles since 2003.
“Warren Central is at a different level,” Jim said. “It’s Warren Central. There aren’t many places around here like that. And (Tristen) is going to be challenged. But I believe in him, and he believes in himself.”
Coach Tonte inherits a wrestling team with six returning state qualifiers.
“I’d be remiss by not saying we want to contend for a state title next year,” he said. “But so do (Evansville) Mater Dei and Penn. And, as always, so will Perry Meridian. No one is going to hand you the gold medal.”