Originally Posted Online: Feb. 03, 2013, 7:57 pm
Last Updated: Feb. 04, 2013, 12:32 am
United Township's Pustelnik 'a no-brainer' for hall of fame
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By Daniel Makarewicz, firstname.lastname@example.org
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Photo: John Greenwood|
Former United Township wrestler Mark Pustelnik will be inducted into the Illinois Wrestling Coaches and Officials Association Hall of Fame in April. Prior to that, Pustelnik will be honored at the individual state meet later this month in Champaign. Pustelnik is a former state champion and coached the Panthers for 14 years.
When naming those who made Illinois Quad-Cities wrestling what it is today, Mark Johnson knows Mark "Bam" Pustelnik is among them.
"He was good from the minute he started wrestling," said Johnson, a Rock Island native, Alleman graduate and former Illinois wrestling coach. "He's one of those names that's really synonymous."
So when it came time for Pustelnik to receive a hall-of-fame accolade, Johnson correctly captured the moment.
"A no-brainer in my opinion," Johnson said.
The only individual in Western Big 6 Conference history to win an individual state championship and coach another one gets the ultimate honor in a few weeks. Pustelnik, a 1986 United Township graduate, will be inducted into the Illinois Wrestling Coaches and Officials Association Hall of Fame in the spring, capping a career that is both distinguished and decorated.
"Pretty special," said Pustelnik, who will be honored during the state meet on Feb. 16 before his official induction ceremony in April. "It's an honor."
To some, it's a long overdue honor.
Pustelnik is the only wrestler in UT history to appear in multiple state championship bouts. As a junior, he won the 1985 Class AA 98-pound state title with a school-best 43-0 record before falling in the 105-pound final a year later.
All four years Pustelnik wrestled, the Panthers won or shared four Western Big 6 Conference titles.
"I did have a lot of success. I had a lot of ups and downs as well," said Pustelnik, a current UT assistant principal. "There are always going to be losses. The main thing is you learn from there and move on. The more you win, the harder it is to take a loss. I was fortunate to have early success. That helped to wanting more success."
Looking at the entire body of work, Pustelnik had success no matter the position. He won nine national championships during his career, but UT is where he made his mark.
As a wrestler, few could touch Pustelnik. As a coach, he established himself as one of the best.
Following in his dad's footsteps as a teacher and coach, Pustelnik returned to UT as a head coach and added to his legacy. In 14 seasons, the Panthers won five Western Big 6 Conference titles and three Class AA regional championships.
Seven of the school's 29 medals were earned under Pustelnik's watch.
"He's always been a heck of a competitor," said Lambros Fotos, a 2002 UT grad who also is the school's head coach. That's why he had so much success as a wrestler and coach. Every single accomplish he made as a wrestler and coach comes from his drive and wanting to succeed."
Both state titles won by a UT wrestler involved Pustelnik, with the second coming when Fotos captured the 2002 Class AA 145-pound championship. Fotos remains the only four-time state medalist in Illinois Q-C history.
"You know what, he worked hard to get me there," Fotos said. "I know he was proud."
Fotos continued that statement before reflecting on what made Pustelnik so good for so long.
"It all goes back to that grit and competitiveness," Fotos said.
Whenever he was near a mat, Pustelnik never let that go.
"I am who I am because of the sport," Pustelnik said.
No matter what Pustelnik does, he recalls what it took to be a champion and keeps that in his daily routine. The approach stays with him even though he has not coached or competed in more than six years.
As an administrator, Pustelnik uses his work ethic and strategic skills wrestling taught him to succeed away from the mat.
On it, he was pretty good.
A hall-of-fame selection solidifies it.
"It's going to be special walking on the mats again," Pustelnik said. "Being recognized is going to be special."