Common bond brings rivals together from Elgin, Larkin

By Mike Miazga
Daily Herald Correspondent
Updated 4/14/2018 12:12 PM

Elgin High School wrestling coach Mark Woollard and his Larkin counterpart Mike Hodge have developed a friendship in recent years fostered through the sport.

"Mike does his summer camp and my guys will go over there and I do a spring camp and we have the Larkin kids over," Woollard explained.

Woollard and Hodge's friendship runs even deeper due to a commonality both wish they never had to endure.

Woollard lost his father after a second battle with cancer in 2014. Unfortunately, Hodge finds himself in a similar situation. His dad, Michael Sr., currently is battling the disease. Michael Hodge Sr., is a Larkin graduate.

"Mike called me personally to tell me what was going on," Woollard said. "My first thoughts were that my father went through that and I feel for the family. I know what they are going through and what they are going to go through. You know the ups and downs. It's a terrible disease."

Woollard has taken the initiative to help the family from a financial standpoint. In addition to a GoFundMe page the family has set up,, Woollard is spearheading a benefit on Saturday May 5 at the Owl's Athletic Club in Elgin (214 E. Chicago St.). All proceeds will go to the Hodge family. The benefit will feature raffles, food and entertainment.

"Mike is a personal friend and being he is part of the wrestling community I am trying to reach as many people as possible to assist," Woolard said. "We're going to see what we can do to make the best out of a bad situation. We're going to bring the east side and the west side and the mutual schools together and we'll go from there."

Woollard, who has reached out to the wrestling coaches fraternity throughout the state, also is thinking of starting other fundraising endeavors for the family such a charity basketball game between wrestling coaches and wrestlers, as well something along the lines of a benefit takedown wrestling tournament.

"It will be terrible basketball, but it will be an event," Woollard said.

Hodge is more than appreciative of his east-side coaching counterpart's efforts.

"It's awesome," he said. "I really appreciate everything Mark is doing for my family and for myself. He's a true man that is helping out one of his comrades."

Hodge said he enjoys the camaraderie he enjoys with Woollard on and off the mat.

"We work well together," he said. "At tournaments, we'll help each other and give each other advice. Except on the nights we wrestle each other, we have a good relationship. When our teams are wrestling each other, all bets are off. The second we step on the mat we're competitors and the second we step off, we're all good friends. I'm glad we have that kind of relationship."

Hodge also is thankful for the advice and encouragement he's received from Woollard regarding his dad's illness.

"Mark tells me to keep my head up," he said. "He's told me what his dad went through and the tough time they had and how they tried to keep their heads up and pray for the best. Mark is there for me. He's given me all his heart and that's something myself and my family truly appreciate."

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