30th and final Rudy’s Powerlifting meet will be specialRudy Ruettiger spots Providence's Ryan Babka with his bench press of 260 lbs, at the 29th Annual Rudy's Gym hosted at Joliet Catholic Academy on July 23, 2011. | Paul James Bergstrom~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 25, 2012 6:51PM
For the past three decades, local powerlifting Hall of Famer Francis Ruettiger has provided the unofficial kickoff to the area high school football season.
When teams from Joliet Catholic, Providence, Bolingbrook and Andrew arrive Saturday morning at Joliet Catholic, they will participate in the 30th anniversary — and final — edition of Rudy’s Gym High School Football Powerlifting Championships.
Ruettiger is not discontinuing the competition for any reason other than it is time.
“Football has taken over a lot in the summer for these kids,” said Ruettiger, the Joliet Catholic strength coach and a defensive assistant for coach Dan Sharp. “They’re in full pads in June, their bodies are getting eaten up.
“This year, (Bolingbrook coach) John Ivlow has three kids who can’t lift because they got dinged in summer practice. I have one kid who won’t be able to do all three lifts. It’s just tough in the summer to do both football and prepare for the lifting meet.”
Nonetheless, the 30th and last event will be special.
It begins at 9 a.m., and Ruettiger plans to begin by showing a video of the first 25 years of the meet. At the conclusion of the meet, around 2 or 3 in the afternoon, he will display a video of the past five years.
“Matt is a big part of it from last year,” Ruettiger noted.
Matt is Matt Mammosser, who passed away May 27 from primary nervous system metastatic melanoma. A regular at Rudy’s Gym, he was a member of Ruettiger’s lifting team and a starting defensive tackle for the Hilloppers in 2011, when they finished second in the state in Class 5A.
“We have renamed the most valuable lifter award the Matt Mammosser Award,” Ruettiger said. “We will have a nice memento to Matt at the end of the second video, and we will have his family there to present the most valuable lifter award.”
The meet will be especially emotional for Mammosser’s teammates, with linebacker Matt Madrigal, center/defensive tackle Lino Bibian and running back Tyler Reitz among his close friends.
Ruettiger called it “sad” to think this will be the last of these meets.
“It is tough for me to end it,” he said. “There are lots of emotions running through me. I just feel it is time. Of course, that’s not to say the kids who lift at my place will quit competing in the spring and doing all the other lifting they do.
“The reason I started the meet was to prepare kids for the upcoming football season. You got ready for the meet, then went right into football the next week. But the summer has changed for football players.”
The meet always had four teams, though not always the same three in addition to Joliet Catholic. Through the years, Joliet West, Joliet Central, Lockport and Plainfield Central were among schools that participated.
“We even had Ottawa one year,” Ruettiger said.
From a teammate perspective, Joliet Catholic has dominated.
“I believe we have won something like 15 years in a row,” Ruettiger said.
However, that’s not to say some of the most memorable participants have not represented other schools.
“We had three kids compete in this who are NFL guys,” Ruettiger said of current NFL players Tony Pashos (Lockport) and Eric Steinbach (Providence), along with former Minnesota Vikings linebacker and current Vikings radio color commentator Pete Bercich (Providence). “Bercich was one of the best high school football players I ever saw. He was a man among boys, and he was great in the weight room, too.
“But with all the kids who were in the meet, a lot of them became great college players, and it’s fun to watch what they have gone on to do in their (life) careers.”
Ruettiger would like nothing better Saturday than to have a good turnout of former participants. He said he has been working on spreading the word that he would like every former participant to attend who possibly can.
It’s the 30th and last, and it will be memorable.