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Head Wrestling Coach Mark Sullivan To Retire After Season

By Joe Mertens '15, 12/02/21, 3:45PM EST


The decorated wrestling coach will be passing the torch at the end of the 2021-22 season after a tremendous coaching career at Saint Ignatius.

OHIO CITY, Oh - Head Wrestling Coach Mark Sullivan will be retiring at the end of the 2021-22 season. Sullivan has been a part of the program since 2002, where he began as an assistant coach and was named head coach at the beginning of the 2003-04 season. Since taking the reins of the wrestling program at Saint Ignatius, he has coached 43 state qualifiers, 27 state placers, six state champions and a national champion. Since 2013, Sullivan has achieved a 106-27 dual match record and a program-record 18 regular-season dual meet wins in the 2020-21 season. Sullivan will be retiring to focus on his family and spend time with his grandchildren.

“I have a grandson in New York that I will be able to visit,” says Sullivan. “As a coach, the program we have is a year-round sport, I have been at Saint Ignatius for 20 years and it’s been a great venture, eye-opening, frustrating and it has been a part of my DNA. I thank my wife and kids for allowing me to coach all these years.”

Coach Sullivan came to Saint Ignatius with a successful and storied football and wrestling career at The Ohio State University and John Carroll University. Sullivan was a walk-on defensive tackle for the Buckeyes, who were coached by the legendary Woody Hayes. In 1980, Sullivan was awarded the Woody Hayes Award, awarded to the most valuable player of the Michigan vs. Ohio State Football game.

Sullivan would finish his academic career at John Carroll, a two-time NCAA finalist in wrestling, finishing with a 47-8 record and receiving All-American honors in football. He was named to the JCU Hall of Fame in 2001 for his accomplishments.

“When I played, I was the smallest in the BIG 10; I haven’t seen a guy in the BIG 10 now play at my size,” explains Sullivan to his wrestling team the week leading into the first match of the regular season. “I didn’t get the starting position because I deserved it; I got it because I earned it.”

Sullivan has had a strong passion for athletics since a young age and credits his mother for his strong work ethic. “When I was 16, I found out my mother was going to pass away,” Sullivan says. “My preparation for athletics was my release because my mother was very important to me. I put a strong emphasis on work ethic.”

Work ethic has been the key to a successful coaching career for Mark Sullivan, who has expected the most out of his student-athletes as a wrestling coach and defensive line coach for coach Chuck Kyle’s ‘69 football team. What makes Sullivan heavily respected in the community is his dedication to push a student-athlete above and beyond.

“I always say he has gotten nicer as the years have gone by,” says Associate Head Coach Jonathan Polick ‘03. “He has always been able to relate to the kids, seeing that as a young coach is pretty impressive. He can adapt as the kids change over the years.”

Many of the young men who come through the wrestling and football program understand right away that Sullivan does not want excuses and that he expects a high level of work ethic when stepping on the mats or football field and even the classroom. “What I do is try and build great young men,” says Sullivan. “When these students leave here, they’ll understand the way that I coached them and realize I was right while coaching them.”

Sullivan has stuck around the Saint Ignatius community and found his mission within the school. Although offered different head coaching jobs with high schools and colleges, Sullivan remained loyal to Saint Ignatius. “I have been an assistant coach for my whole life until I was approached for Saint Ignatius’ head coaching role,” Sullivan explains. “I took it one year at a time; I thought it would be a five-year stint, establish the program and move on. But being around the academics and spirituality that Saint Ignatius offers, it became my mission to stay here and do my part.”

“Knowing Mark back from when he came into our wrestling program, he came in as a passionate guy and spread that passion to the kids,” says Athletic Director Rory Fitzpatrick ‘88. “The mission of Saint Ignatius was always present in the wrestling room; he makes sure the team works together in an individual sport.”

It was evident in the early stages of his coaching career that Sullivan positively impacted student-athletes lives. Polick, a member of Sullivan’s coaching staff for 11 years and in his current role for nine seasons, was a senior when Sullivan was brought in as an assistant coach to the program in the 2003-04 season.

“It was my senior year of high school and I would stay after and wrestle with Sullivan,” explains Polick. “Those five minutes would turn into 30 minutes, which made me into a better wrestler, his ability to push and get the best out of everyone is what makes him a great coach; I wasn’t the best wrestler, but he got the most out of me.”

The overall characteristic that many mentioned when talking about coach Sullivan was his ability to relate to the student-athletes and get the very best out of them. “Wrestling is a challenging sport; managing kids in wrestling differs from other sports,” explains Fitzpatrick. “He can relate to any kid. I think the credit goes to his family; the tools were given to him to allow him to meet anybody and get the best out of them.”

Before coach Sullivan took the reins of the wrestling program, there was just one state qualifier in nine seasons when named head coach. The program required change. “My first JV tournament that I ran had one volunteer to set up mats and prepare the tournament; well, that one person didn’t show up, so I set up four mats myself and I didn’t finish until 5 a.m. and the weigh-ins were at 6 a.m.,” explains Sullivan. “I knew right away that we needed to do something drastic to get more participation from alumni and parents and a couple of years ago for the Catholic Invitational, we had close to 100 volunteers and that was humbling.”

The program has produced some of the best wrestling talents that Saint Ignatius has seen. Names such as George DiCamillo ‘12, Kaden Russell ‘17, Dave Habat ‘10, Jerome Robinson ‘10 and DJ Huff ‘19 are just some of the characters that echo throughout the program while Sullivan has been the head coach.

“The kids that win the State Championships is the fun part, the part that makes them the men that they are is the struggle to get to that point, what did they do to get on that podium,” emphasizes Sullivan. “That is the part I remember, the long hours after practice while handling academics. The most rewarding is the hard work. The success these guys have was not me; it was them and their dedication.”

As Sullivan heads into his final season as a head coach, it is a bittersweet moment for the decorated leader of the wrestling program. “One of the main jobs I have is putting good people in front of our student-athletes; you want to make sure that you have someone that models what we are about at Saint Ignatius,” Fitzpatrick explains. “Being a head coach at Saint Ignatius only works for you if it works in your life; we were fortunate to have someone like Mark. Having him leave is a big hole. I understand that it was his time to hang it up and we support him in spending time with his family. We will miss him.”

Coach Polick recalls when Sullivan let him know that it would be his final season over the summer. “When he made the decision, I was sitting at open mats and he sits next to me before the kids come in and told me it was going to be his last year,” says Polick. “I had a feeling it was coming but wasn’t sure at what point. I understand it because he has grandkids he wants to spend time with.”

“He loves Saint Ignatius High School; he sent his sons through this school,” Fitzpatrick says. “It was great to work with him and his passion. I know he’ll still be around, but he was a great coach and I’m excited about his next chapter.”

The regular season begins on Friday, December 3, as the Wildcats will open the year with the Solon Comet Classic, which will indicate where the Cats are after a long off-season. The team met for their Chapel talk with Chaplain Drew Vilinksy ‘97 preparing for the start of the season; Sullivan addressed his team by saying, “I’m a big believer in spirituality, that is why I’m at Saint Ignatius. I had many high school and college offers to leave here, but I never did. I enjoy coaching these great young men.”

Since telling the team that it would be his final season, he wants to continue the same high standard and tradition that makes the Saint Ignatius wrestling program prestigious. “The message I have said since it is my final season is that I want to keep the same standard of a high work ethic,” explains Sullivan. “Prepare to be a State Champion in any way. I want to see this program continue to succeed even after I am gone.”

Former wrestlers have reached out with their thanks to Head Wrestling Coach Mark Sullivan; the following are messages from his former student-athletes over the years at Saint Ignatius:

Jerome Robinson ‘10

Coach Sullivan,

You showed us what it meant to value not only teammates but family. You welcomed us into yours, not just as your wrestlers but also as family members. That showed me what type of human being you are. You embodied being an Ignatius man forever. I will never forget you being in my corner for our first state championship since the ’90s. There were a lot of blood, sweat and tears that went into that first state title. It even took beating out an opponent from the school in Lakewood. Oh and of course, who could forget! Your lap around the arena in the Schottenstein Center once we won! What a fantastic career you have had as the Head Coach at Saint Ignatius, including numerous state champions, placers and top ten team finishes. As you reflect on your accomplishments, always remember what great men you helped develop along the way. We are forever grateful to you.

Thank you.

Dave Habat ‘10

Coach Sullivan is an excellent wrestling coach and, more importantly, a great role model and mentor. His family is a reflection of how amazing he is. Mrs. Sullivan treated me as one of her own and I was very close with Mark, Kolin, Ashley and Derek. They’re a fantastic family and were a big part of my high school experience. Saint Ignatius will miss coach Sullivan, but he made the most of his time there. I’ll always be in touch with and his family, and I wish him the best moving forward.

Thank you for everything.

George DiCamillo ‘12

What I will never forget about coach Sullivan is his passion and selflessness. He was always willing to help anyone who needed it, and would stay later than expected so that the guys on the team could review the technique. One moment I shared with coach Sullivan that stands out to me was the night of my State Championship match in 2011. I got the winning takedown in overtime, looked over to my corner and noticed coach Sullivan and my dad jumping and yelling. I turn my head and the next thing I know, my dad and Sullivan are on the ground rolling off the elevated stage. Coach Sullivan’s passion in the most significant moments showed how much he cared for his team and I couldn’t have asked for a better leader in high school. Most importantly, coach Sullivan cared about his athletes in the highest of highs and the lowest of lows.

After the final match of my wrestling career, the first person to call me was coach Sullivan. I still have the voicemail to this day. He thanked me and congratulated me on becoming a champion of life, despite my shortcomings. Wrestling was important to coach Sullivan, but what was most important to him was developing men for others. No matter what life brought my way, coach Sullivan always approached our relationship with a servant-centered heart. He is a living embodiment of “to give and not count the cost.”

After every single practice in high school, we would pray. We would share our intentions and say the prayer for generosity. Coach Sullivan would always lead the prayer by praying for family, friends and the health of the team. His generosity was unmatched and he was a great role model for the athletes that came through his program. The Saint Ignatius wrestling program will have big shoes to fill as Sully retires and I wish him nothing but the best as he wraps up his final season as head coach!

Kaden Russell ‘17

When I think about my time at Saint Ignatius, coach Sullivan is one of the most important characters who shaped my love for wrestling and allowed me to continue to the next level. There are so many words that can be used to describe the enigma that is coach Sullivan, but I think the one that describes him best is crazy. Often, this can have a negative connotation, but in a volatile sport like wrestling, crazy is exactly what you need.

Thousands of stories come to mind that show coach Sullivan‘s craziness. But one that sticks out to me the most is when I was in the semi-finals at the state tournament. My opponent was wearing the green and gold of St. Edward. The match was going in my favor and the other the wrestler was getting worn down. In an attempt to save their wrestler, one of the opposing coaches started walking to the scorer’s table to argue a bogus call to aid their wrestler. But clearly, this was a new coach and he didn’t realize what craziness was standing on the other side of the mat. Coach Sullivan took off from his chair with proper Rose Bowl MVP speed and intercepted the opposing coach before making it to the table to slow the match down.

Coach Sullivan suggested sternly that he sit back down in his chair. I think the St. Ed’s coach saw the passion in Coach Sullivan‘s eyes and took the wise choice of sitting back down immediately. The momentum continued to go my way. I ended up winning the match, which led to me winning a state title for Saint Ignatius. That same passion that the opposing coach saw in Sullivan‘s eyes is the same passion that Sully used to push us to our limits in the room; the passion that argued for us in the corner to help win matches; the passion that punished us for breaking yet another thing in the wrestling room; but also the passion that consoled you after losing a heartbreaking match and being there for you when life got tough.

Coach Sullivan is crazy. Crazy about the sport of wrestling and his athletes. He has an unrelenting dedication to making every athlete that walks through his wrestling room a better man on the other side. Although this is his last year as Head Coach for Saint Ignatius, I know he will still be going out every day, infecting the world with his craziness. And that’s something for which we can all be grateful.

DJ Huff ‘19

Coach Sullivan helped make my high school experience great. We talked all the time. Conversations ranged from his infamous 1902 Rose Bowl game to personal matters. Most conversations were on the lighter side, but we had some that showed that he cared about me as a person and cared about my success outside of wrestling. I don’t think I was special; I think that’s just Sully. He takes the time to get to know his wrestlers. It’s not all about the sport with him and I think that’s what makes him a great coach. He genuinely wants to see you succeed and will help you do that.

One of my favorite memories happened during my senior year at the district meet. He and I had a challenging interaction that I needed. He told me things that I needed to hear and I believe that fueled me for the next couple of days. It was tough, but I think it exemplified Sully. It showed just how much he cared and invested in my success. He knew what that moment meant to me and it seemed like it meant just as much to him. It is easy to get behind someone when you know they care about you. The moments I’ve had with Sully are priceless and I’m happy to experience them. The program will miss coach Sullivan.