In May 2016, I was an incoming freshman, about to wrestle for the school that I had dreamed of wrestling for my entire adolescent life – the school that my father wrestled for. I couldn’t wait for my journey to begin.
The Baldwin Wallace Duals would be the first time I got to put on that Saint Ignatius singlet and nothing felt more right. Little did I know then how special this time would be, the relationships that I would develop and the feats I would accomplish. How truly quick the time goes. It seems like six minutes.
Coming into my freshman year, I felt that I had a lot to prove. I was determined to prove to myself, my family, my coaches, and the Saint Ignatius community that I belonged. I knew that there was a lot that I was going to have to overcome, but I was determined to make it. I wasn’t the most touted incoming freshman. I only made it to the OAC State Tournament once, as an eighth-grader, going 3-2. I was a nobody.
Freshman year started out rough. I was extremely undersized and out of my league, or so it would seem. That year would end in disappointment, as I wrestled a little over .500 for the season. I took second at the Sectional Tournament, and then went 2-2 at the District Tournament. I didn't want the season to be over.
The only thing that gave me drive was what Coach Armstrong and Coach Bathurst would tell me after my quarterfinals match.
“You can be special if you want. We see the work ethic and determination in you.”
Those words would resonate and drive me for the next three years. I was going to work as hard as I could.
Only one person can understand a wrestler, and that's another wrestler. Have you ever had that feeling that everyone was watching you? Words can’t describe the feeling you have when it's just you and your opponent out there on the mat. Six minutes of everything you have, with all eyes on you, not wanting to make a mistake. Out there all alone on that island, nobody to pick up your slack if you're tired, no one to cover a mistake you may make. All we have are our thoughts, knowing that the other 13 wrestlers know exactly what you're feeling, We are a special type of breed, there is something quite not right with us. We put in endless hours on that mat using muscles you never knew you had and we monitor our weights and diets closer than a runway model might.
Entering my senior season, I knew that I had to make it a fun one. I wanted to cherish every moment that I spent in Gibbons Hall, along with every time that I put on that Saint Ignatius singlet. I am happy to have spent my last season at Saint Ignatius with this year's team.
This particular group of guys was a unique bunch. It was a great mix of guys: We had young and old guys, veterans and beginners. They are all goofballs, which always made for a great time, but most of all, they were all hardworking. It was an honor and a privilege to spend my last year as a Wildcat with these guys.
I would have to say that my favorite memory with this team would have to be the Catholic Invitational Tournament in Cincinnati. It was the night after the first day of the tournament. Everyone made weigh-outs, and we had plenty of time to bond as a team, which is crucial in any sport. And let me tell you – you'll never meet a more happy and energetic person than a wrestler after making that final weigh-in. We went to a nearby store and stocked up on a whole bunch of food and then went back to the hotel to watch the Connor McGregor fight and hang out. That weekend was when this team became really close, and I will never forget it.
To my fellow seniors and the rest of my teammates: Thank you for making this season one of my favorite seasons that I have had as a Wildcat. We grew a lot as a team this year, in both wrestling and as men. I hope that I demonstrated the type of leadership that helps you not only in wrestling but in life as well. I would like to say a special thank you to Timmy Putka, my little brother Joey Novak, Grayson McLellan, Jack Bush, Connor Gitzl, Ryan Putka, and Anthony Santagata for drilling, doing live goes, and pushing me all year. I know you guys may not have always wanted to but you did, no questions asked. You have no idea how much it helped and how much it meant. You guys are a big reason why I had so much success this season and I will be forever grateful for you guys.
To my coaches: Thank you for seeing the potential in me when I was a freshman. Thanks for pushing me every practice, showing me new techniques, helping me cut weight, coming up with game plans for every match, and for just being there to talk about other things that didn’t involve wrestling.
To the parents: Thank you guys for dealing with us during this very long season. Thank you to all of the moms for making sure we were all well-fed at all the tournaments. We truly had the nicest looking food table. Thank you guys for being there every match to cheer us on, encourage and console us. Without your support, none of this would be possible.
Finally, I would also like to thank my parents. Thank you for always being there for me during this journey. You guys were always there to help me with anything, whether it was giving me a ride to morning workouts or giving me advice. You always wanted the best for me. I am forever grateful for you guys.
I am so appreciative to be able to represent this amazing institution for the past four years. I have grown so much as a Man For Others, and I hope that I have influenced others to do the same. As sad as it is for this chapter in my life to end, I cannot wait for what the future holds in front of me.
Johnny Novak '20