May 29, 2014
Northwestern Medal of Honor All-Time Winners
EVANSTON, Ill. - On Tuesday, June 3, Northwestern will unveil the school's 2014 winners of the Big Ten Medal Of Honor. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Conference’s most prestigious award, which was first presented in 1915 to one student-athlete from the graduating class of each university who had attained the greatest proficiency in athletics and scholastic work. Big Ten schools currently feature more than 8,200 student-athletes, but only 24 earn this prestigious award on an annual basis. In the 99 years of the Medal of Honor, over 1,300 student-athletes have earned this distinction.
In preparation for Tuesday's announcement, NUsports.com caught up with several former Wildcats winners and asked what it meant to them to be part of this exclusive group of Big Ten Conference student-athletes. Today we catch up with two-time All-American (1989 and 1990), 1990 NCAA Wrestling Champion and 1990 Medal of Honor recipient Jack Griffin.
Name: Jack Griffin
Graduation year: 1990
College major: Human Development and Social Policy with a concentration in Organizational Studies, in the School of Education.
Current location: Skevanston! (technically Skokie but I am on the Skokie/Evanston border where we share city services.
Current occupation: What are we called? Some say we are Advancement Professionals, others call us Development Officers. I like to be called a wrestler. Either way, I am twisting arms to get results.
In three paragraphs or less, tell us what you’ve been up to since you left Evanston:
Ok, 24 years in less than 3 paragraphs or less, here goes… I left NU and headed to Iowa City to train for the 1992 Olympics with legendary wrestler and wrestling coach, Dan Gable. Came up just short of my goal, losing, ironically, to the man I defeated for my NCAA wrestling title, Zeke Jones, who won the 1991 World Title and became the eventual Silver Medal winner in Barcelona in 1992.
I departed Iowa City and headed to Champaign to start my stint as the newly created “Restricted Earnings Wrestling Coach.” I coached for one year at the U of I before Northwestern’s Head Wrestling Coach, Tim Cysewski (my Head Coach during my senior year at NU) called me and asked me to be his top assistant. Talk about a no brainer!! I started my coaching career at Northwestern, reconnected with my college sweetheart, Monica Joseph ‘89, and became engaged in 1994. In the summer of 1995, I left NU, got married in November (11/4/95 – PSU game, we won) and had a “real job” for 9 months before going back to NU and begging for my coaching job back. Thankfully there was an opening and they hired me back.
I coached until 2000 when I decided I wanted to try fundraising for the athletics department. The rest they say is history. I have been employed at NU for 17 years, the last two in Alumni Relations & Development. My two boys, Jacob (14) and Ethan (12) have grown up around Evanston/Northwestern and are diehard Wildcat fans. Monica has worked at Evanston Hospital since 1997 (we have loyalty issues) and we consider ourselves very lucky to be a part of this wonderful community.
What was your personal athletic highlight during your time at Northwestern?
Winning an individual national title to cap off my 4 year wrestling career was amazing. Seeing that this question was about my personal athletic highlight, I talked about one of my victories. If you had asked me about the greatest highlight of my college career, the answer is different; it was our team taking 4th place in the NCAA tournament, also my senior year, celebrating that accomplishment surrounded by teammates, coaches, friends and family!!
What is your favorite Northwestern sports memory as a spectator (either while you were in school or since)?
There have been so many great moments as a spectator, from watching the Rose Bowl run from afar in 1995, to seeing Jake Herbert become a two-time NCAA champion, but my favorite memory comes from when I was in school at NU, attending a home men’s basketball game. I didn’t get to go to many basketball games and generally, wrestlers hate anything to do with that round ball but for some reason I wasn’t a total hater (SIDE NOTE: I have never “played” wrestling. Girls play soccer, boys play basketball, MEN WRESTLE!!). We were in a close game with Minnesota, the teams exchange leads back and forth. Only seconds remain, Minnesota puts up a shot and takes a 2-point lead. I forgot who took the inbounds pass but he passes the ball to the corner with two seconds left, to our center, Shon Morris, (he played out of position but he was the tallest and toughest dude that we had) who chucks up the ball. I remember screaming “NO” as he put up the shot, and screaming “YES” when the ball hit nothing but net for a 3 ball and a one point victory.
What does the Big Ten Medal Of Honor mean to you?
When you think of the Big Ten Medal of Honor you think of the best of the best from around the Big Ten, in every sport. To be named Northwestern’s best male athlete was surreal. I know during my day we didn’t have that much success in the two main sports (football and men’s basketball) but the rest of our sports teams were having tremendous success when I was in school. To be named Northwestern’s best male athlete with so many great candidates was truly an honor.
What is your favorite non-sports memory of your time at Northwestern?
It would have to be meeting the love of my life, Monica. We met my freshman year and I jokingly say she was a bit of a wrestling groupee having “liked” another wrestler on the team. She was a best friend a person could have and helped me tremendously in school because if I wanted to hang out with her, we had to go and study! I spent a lot of time with her in the Tech Library which was a favorite spot to study.
Is there a person you met at Northwestern (teacher, coach, roommate, etc) that had a sizable effect on you as a person?
Tough question as I could talk about a teacher, a coach or a roommate that impacted me tremendously but seeing that this is about a sports award I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about Tim Cysewski who was my assistant coach my first 3 years and then became my head coach my senior year. Tim molded me into the wrestler I became. We had many competitive wrestling battles in practice. There probably aren’t many sports where your coach is actually allowed to workout with you but Timmy pushed me past my comfort zone and kicked my butt (literally) on a regular basis. He also showed me that while wrestling a brutally tough sport that you can have fun while doing it. I will always be indebted to him and I am so proud that I became his first National Champion.
In your opinion, what makes Northwestern University special?
The people who make up the great Northwestern Community. We have the best and brightest attending NU, being taught by the best and brightest and an administration that strives for nothing but the best in all that we do as a University. We have an amazing Northwestern Network that truly looks out for each other. Even though we are Chicago’s Big Ten Team, we are a University that has a great National and increasingly growing Global reputation! Go U NU!!
When was the last time you were on campus?
It may be easier to say when was the last time I was off campus!! I have been blessed in that I have been connected with Northwestern and surrounding community since 1986. In those 28 years I have not been at NU as a student, coach or staff member for only 4 of those years. I have been blessed!
How much purple is in your closet?
Ha, ha! I was at NU when purple was not in vogue and you couldn’t find any Northwestern gear in local stores. I have a ton of purple and I almost feel guilty when going out because I don’t have much stuff that either isn’t purple or has a Northwestern logo on it.
Anything else you would like to add?
While the Big Ten Medal of Honor was awarded to me, it would never happen without all the great teammates and coaches I was surrounded by when I competed for my four years. I was blessed to come in with a great freshmen class that included Brad Traviolia and Mike Funk. At the time we were the 4th rated recruiting class in the country. After our senior year (Mike Funk graduated a year later due to injuries) we finished 4th at the NCAA tournament and took home a trophy. That was pretty special to me!
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