John Brown was a great coach … and he didn’t care who knew it.
Not only that, the longtime leader of the Mount Vernon wrestling program didn’t care if anyone knew his secret to success. It wasn’t a secret at all. All you had to do was ask.
Hayes coach Josh Heffernan did just that about six years ago … and the Delaware wrestling program hasn’t been the same since.
“Hayes started to become more competitive in our conference when we started doing the Junior Olympics with John and many of his wrestlers for Team Ohio. John was the director of Team Ohio,” Heffernan said. “Guys who make the cut get in 15-20 matches against elite competition … and they also get to attend a four-day camp with elite high school, collegiate and Olympic-level coaches just before the Junior Olympic Games themselves. This was one of the things giving Mount Vernon wrestlers an edge.
“I asked John about (Team Ohio) six years ago,” Heffernan continued. “He explained it to me — a rival coach whom he knew was gunning for him — without batting an eye. And moreover, he said, ‘Why don’t you coach it with me?’” Accepting to join Team Ohio was one of the smartest coaching decisions I’ve made.”
Since then, Hayes and Mount Vernon have become big-time rivals on the mats, with both teams winning three head-to-head duals in the six matches prior to Thursday’s showdown in Mount Vernon. Five of those six determined the winner of the OCC-Capital Division championship.
Brown’s life was cut short when he died in a single-car accident late last month in West Virginia. His legacy, though, remains. It was all over the Pleasant Street Elementary gym Thursday night.
Heffernan felt compelled to do something special to honor the life of his friend and colleague … and it came in the form of a t-shirt.
“It came to me on a whim,” Heffernan said. “I wanted something we can all keep for awhile. I imagine our district and state tournament with a bunch of Mount Vernon and Delaware kids wearing them. I think that would be a nice tribute to John’s legacy.”
The front of the shirt outlined the rivalry between the two teams while the back simply stated, “We are better because of John Brown.”
The Hayes wrestlers gave their Mount Vernon opponents the shirts in addition the the customary handshake during the introductions.
The Pacers went on to win 51-24 and, in some ways, had Brown to thank as much as anyone.
“John was one of those guys who, through the competition of wrestling, became a close friend,” Heffernan said. “That’s the kind of guy John was. He’s all about bringing the best out of everyone he is in contact with … even rival coaches. John Brown made me a better coach.”
Follow Ben Stroup on Twitter @delgazette_ben.