On Dec. 29, the Chicago Bears honored each of the eight football state champions during halftime at Soldier Field. Class 6A champion Batavia enjoyed the spotlight.
"It was a great day, we had a lot of fun. The Bears did a great job," said Bulldogs coach Dennis Piron.
The Batavia contingent included Piron, defensive coordinator Matt Holm, assistant coaches Steve Bailey and Billy Colamatteo and team captains Micah Coffey, Forrest Gilbertson, Ryan Minniti, Rourke Mullins, Anthony Thielk and -- subbing for Anthony Scaccia, who Piron said "was getting his teeth pulled" -- Michael Moffatt.
Piron said the highlight of the day was running out to midfield for the salute, but the Bears' opponent that day, the Green Bay Packers, enabled other fun bits.
First, Piron said Packers fan Minniti dressed in his green and gold. He was told by Bears brass to give it a rest.
Later, as the Bulldogs left the field by way of the Packers' sideline, Piron said Minniti yelled, "Love you!" in the players' direction. One of the Packers -- Piron recalled him as Jarrett Bush -- told Minniti to come over, where the two gave each other a big bear hug.
Perhaps "bear hug" is improper usage.
"He got booed, of course, at the Bears game," Piron said.
Checking in with ... Johnny Jimenez
Having already won Illinois High School Association wrestling championships at 103, 113 and 120 pounds, Marmion senior Johnny Jimenez, now competing at 126, seeks to become the 12th wrestler in Illinois High School Association history to win four state titles. Committed to Wisconsin as a junior, he plans to study business and possibly minor in political science. Jimenez, who began wrestling at 4, comes from an athletic family. His father, Walt, wrestled and played football at Hoffman Estates where his mother was a soccer-playing classmate. Older brother Nico, a redshirt junior at Illinois, won the Class 2A 171 title in 2010; kid brother Nate is an eighth-grader at Haines Middle School in St. Charles, tearing it up with six Illinois Kids Wrestling Federation titles out of SCN Youth Wrestling. Sister Lauren is a sophomore defender for the Northwood University (Mich.) women's soccer team. Not a big stats guy, Johnny Jimenez figures he's 23-3 this season, which would give him an overall record of 132-10 at Marmion. This season he's won big tournaments at Barrington, the Dvorak, and the Cheesehead in Wisconsin, and took fifth at the Ironman in Ohio. Illinois Matmen ranks him No. 1 at 126 pounds, while Flo Wrestling has him No. 10 nationally and Intermat ranks him No. 11. Asked if there's anything Jimenez must improve, Cadets coach Ryan Cumbee said, "Honestly, no. When he's mentally prepared and he's on, there's nobody who can beat him ... What's most special about him is not even his wrestling ability, it's such a good young man that he is."
Q: Johnny, do you agree with Coach that you have no weakness on the mat?
A: I always feel I need to improve on every move that I execute. I always feel my moves can be perfected in every way. I'd like to see my bottom work get a little better. I'd like to see my endurance get better as well. I'm a perfectionist, so I like to work on every move that I have.
Q: What's your go-to move?
A: I have a go-to single-leg on my seat. Besides that, I have an abundance and I can go from one move to another.
Q: After unofficial workouts at Illinois and Northwestern, why did you choose Wisconsin for college?
A: One of the main factors in my choice of schools was I didn't want to go too far, so I already was looking at Midwest schools. What really caught my attention was the coaching staff. The assistant coaches are really young, really new, and they show a lot of care for the wrestlers, and want each and every wrestler to improve. They're not just focusing on the stars.
Q: Given your father's athletic history, was there any doubt about your direction?
A: He loved the sport, loved what it did to you as a person. So he knew from the start all of us would be wrestlers. That was the plan.
Q: One state title is a big deal, four would be huge. Was that ever a goal?
A: Yeah. I would go with my dad and my brother to state high school (championships) since I was little. I remember always telling my dad that I would be a four-time state champion for him. He never made it downstate in high school and he would watch all these kids wrestle at state and be so amazed.
Since I was little I told him I'd be a four-time state champ. As I got older I'd work harder, and by the time I reached eighth-grade that's where I really knew I would fit in with the sport, and I put aside the other sports, and my goal was to be a four-time state champion.
Q: How many trophies do you have at home?
A: I really couldn't tell you. Me and my brothers, our trophies are all kind of stored down in the basement right now. We keep the bracket boards, though. Four state bracket boards with me and my older brother, and over 10 kids state bracket boards around the house.
Q: What do you eat?
A: I have a really strict diet. I stay away from most of the carbs until after a workout. My trainer, who taught me my whole diet and part of my work ethic -- he's been training me since eighth-grade -- he taught me a lot. I'm drinking a gallon and a half of water every day and sticking to my proteins. I'm eating a lot of chicken breasts and veggies. After workouts I'm able to have a little bit of pasta, maybe, more carbs. That's been my diet all winter during wrestling season. I'm able to keep my weight down that way.
Q: How about chocolate pudding?
A: No, not chocolate pudding. That's one of the toughest things about wrestling, is you've got to sacrifice a lot that the normal high-school kid eats every day. Sometimes I've got to sacrifice not going into the lunchroom, not going to the fast-food place. It's worth it in the end, though.
Q: Do you have any hobbies?
A: I'm into art classes, I draw a lot. I'm not the best drawer, but I enjoy drawing. When I grew up my brother was a big drawer, so I just followed what my older brother did. I play pickup football games. I'm just the normal, typical high-school kid. I've got two brothers, so I hang out with them a lot.
Q: For a wrestler as successful as yourself, how do you handle a loss?
A: At the end of the day it's just a sport, you're out there to have fun. The sun's still going to come up ... Coach Cumbee actually taught me a lot, to go out there and have fun. He calls me over one day at the beginning of practice after a tough loss, I'm taking it pretty hard on myself. He sat me on the couch and said no matter what I did on the wrestling mat, no matter if I won or lost, at the end of the day the sun's still going to come up and my family's going to love me.
Q: Why do you like wrestling?
A: I love the feeling of being able to know that my hard work has paid off, because wrestling is such a tough sport, from the dieting and the workouts. It just makes winning feel that much better.
Winning a football game isn't quite as great as winning a wrestling match. I've done both, I played football my whole life till I was in eighth-grade. Wrestling, you're just sacrificing so much, after winning a big match you just feel so much better about yourself. I love that feeling. It's the best part of wrestling.
Welcome to the clubs
West Aurora will honor its Sports Hall of Fame Class of 2014 at the conclusion of Saturday's sophomore boys basketball game against Lockport.
This year's inductees are: three-sport athlete James Konrad (Class of 1960); football and baseball player Elvis Hernandez (1996 and boy, he was a nice catcher); three-sport athlete Rorry Kinnally Bonifas (1998); and her tennis teammate, Michelle Matko (1998), a four-time all-state singles player.
Geneva will honor its Athletic Hall of Fame Class of 2014 during halftime of the varsity boys basketball game against Streamwood on Feb. 7.
This year's inductees are: Jeff Ainsworth (Class of 1968), an all-conference wrestler and football player who started two seasons at offensive tackle for Northern Illinois; Jim Klein (1990), a Vikings football and wrestling star who wrestled at Illinois; and Jackie Santacaterina (2006), an all-state soccer player who was all-Big Ten at Illinois and now plays for the Chicago Red Stars.
Tom Hanks' favorite ball
News out of Bloomington this week included the Illinois High School Association approving a return to Wilson as the manufacturer of the official state ball, beginning next academic year. Wilson has the contract through 2023-24. The Chicago company provided the official ball of IHSA sports from 1994-2009, replaced by Baden.
And in a case of the other shoe dropping, the IHSA board recommended a special Legislative Commission session to discuss modifying summer football policies. After the IHSA installed its acclimatization program specifying practice duration and appropriate equipment last year, some coaches felt the 25-day summer contact period would soon be targeted. Here it is.
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