When Tim Johnston received word during his father's wake in March that Elgin High School would remember the late Irv Johnston in a special way during the 10th Annual Elgin-Bartlett Remembrance meet Friday, he admittedly said it was initially hard to take.
"When they told us," Tim Johnston said of the dedication of Elgin's new wrestling mat, "it was kind of a difficult moment. But it's good to know there's still people out there who remember the things that (his dad has) given to the community and it's pretty special."
Johnston, a graduate of Elgin High in 1959, an all-American wrestler at Southern Illinois University and Elgin Sports Hall of Fame inductee who passed away at the age of 73 on March 5 due to unknown reasons following successful heart surgery, was remembered along with the late Jeff Mirabella, a 3-time Illinois Class AA state champion in the 1980s, Devon Cotie, who wrestled for Elgin from 1993-1996 (son of Gary Cotie) and the late Gary Everett, who coached football, wrestling and track at Elgin from 1980-1994. Each year Cotie, Everett and Mirabella are honored for their service to Elgin and Bartlett wrestling.
"It's very honorable for Bartlett and Elgin to organize an event like this to remember those who represented both schools in the highest light and remember those people once they pass," said Bruce Mirabella, Jeff's older brother, who wrestled at Elgin and coached at Bartlett.
"Anytime you celebrate the 10th anniversary of anything, I think it's pretty special."
But as the Johnston family gathered on the mat -- a spot that served as Irv Johnston's sanctuary for decades -- even Irv's widow Sandy, who was joined by her son Tim, his wife Tori and their boys Joseph, Brian, Paul, Matthew and Shaun along with Sandy and Irv's daughter Pam, her husband Doug, their daughter Casey and son Sam, the family didn't envision Elgin dedicating its new mat with Irv's name and accomplishments to be as culminating and special as it was.
"I was just blown away. I was expecting a little plaque or something which would honor me and the family and his legacy and walked in and saw that -- it's beautiful," said Sandy. "He was Mr. Elgin High, he lived and breathed Elgin High.
"His love was wrestling and coming here to Chesbrough Field House, it brings it back to when we were young and starting out. Young coach. Big aspirations. And (watching) our kids grow up and having their own careers, it's real satisfying."
And as Bartlett coach John O'Brien put it after his Hawks came away with a 50-17 win, it was "Mr. Elgin High-like."
"It's an honor to be here for this commemoration. I'm just real happy, " said O'Brien. "We at Bartlett lived up to what he stood for which was excellence, and we wrestled real well tonight."
Six Bartlett (6-4) wrestlers came away with pins, led by senior Anthony Zipparo (6-4), who pinned Christian De La Luz at 132 pounds in 3:55 to put the Hawks ahead 35-17. That was in the middle of five straight Hawk decisions, which distanced themselves from the Maroons (0-2), who had closed to within 23-17 after Elgin's Zach McCullough beat Jon Cruz 12-4 at 120.
"As one of the leaders on this team I feel it's my job to keep them motivated, keep them pumped, get the win," said Zipparo, who takes over the leadership role Sal Annoreno held last year. "(I) really hope I could fill that position. (Annoreono) was my personal motivator but now he's gone and I have to keep the right mindset and instill it in these guys."
Consider it instilled in Sam Valenzia (113), Dan Malin (126), Ryan Hennessey (145), Nathan Dary (152), Alex Montbriand (170) and Joey DiSanti (195), all winners by pin. Elgin was able to come away with three legitimate victories and the rest of the Hawk wrestlers got it done well before the third period.
"That's kind of our strength, speaking of the pins" O'Brien said. "We're a little bit suspect or we had some concerns. We had a couple guys out of our lineup, missing. Our guys rose to the occasion and wrestled well."
The losing effort didn't spoil things for Elgin coach Tom Stewart, who wrestled for Johnston and says his team still has some unknowns two meets into the season. But the night was too special to be ruined, especially since it's the first time the school put a name on a wrestling mat.
"What a great guy to have it for," said Stewart. "I know he would have loved to have been here this evening to watch this happen."
If he was, Sandy Johnston said, "he would be smiling, popping the buttons off with his chest out."