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Spirit of 76 Award

By Barbara Dawson

Montini Catholic Student Receives the Johnny Weiger “Spirit of 76” Award

Cooper Petersen holding the award, with left to right, Lauren Weiger (Johnny's sister), Karl Weiger and Fran Weiger

 

Montini Catholic High School's recent football game on April 1 commemorated the life of a very special member of the Montini Catholic family. Every year, family, friends and fans set aside a few minutes before the game to reflect on the life of, and pay tribute to, former student and football team member, Johnny Weiger.

Normally, the team holds its annual charity game benefiting the JAW Foundation; however, this year's fundraising had to be put on hold due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Karl and Fran Weiger announced the recipient of their 8th annual Spirit of 76 Award in their son's memory. The Weiger Family is inspired by the memory of their late son to present a special award each year to a unique member of the varsity football team.  

"My husband and I get to know the players during the year," said Johnny's mother, Fran. "With help from staff and coaches, we choose the player who best embodies that of great character, faith and sportsmanship." 

This year's recipient was Cooper Petersen, a senior, who attended St. Mary of Gostyn School in Downers Grove and is a member of St. Mary of Gostyn Parish.

"Cooper has excelled both in the classroom and on the football field over his years here at Montini, and we are very proud that the Weiger family has selected him” for the award, said Mike Bukovsky, Montini’s head varsity football coach, who described Cooper as well-rounded and as the epitome of the high school student-athlete experience.  

"He is a soft-spoken, humble player who always demonstrates the highest degree of character in everything he does and is a true ambassador for the Montini Catholic football program," Coach Bukovsky said. 

Weiger was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia in 2011 when he was a freshman at Montini. He underwent chemotherapy, radiation treatment, and a bone marrow transplant, and missed most of the remainder of the school year. Following his transplant, the Bronco football team visited Johnny in the hospital, and soon after, it was determined that the transplant was successful, and Johnny was declared cancer-free.

Before the start of his sophomore year at Montini, he was hospitalized and diagnosed with TTP, a rare blood disease that can be caused by a bone marrow transplant. He died on Nov. 4, 2012. 

Johnny's jersey number, 76, which is what the award is named after, was officially retired on April 1, 2021.  A special framed jersey was presented to the family. A second jersey will be displayed in Montini's John Gavin Stadium Club as a tribute to Johnny.

An enthusiastic crowd of Bronco fans respectfully greeted the Weiger family as they walked onto the field to accept the jersey and present the Spirit of 76 Award. 

"Throughout his battle with leukemia and TTP, Johnny displayed the spirit of a champion," said Montini President Jim Segredo. "He always showed great character, courage, fight, and a deep commitment to his faith. The Spirit of 76 Award pays tribute to Johnny and the positive influence he has had on his teammates and peers." 

The JAW Foundation is a non-profit organization, inspired by Johnny’s memory and founded by the Weiger family, to support Pediatric Adolescent Leukemia Support (PALS). JAW volunteers devote their time to raising funds for families with children undergoing treatment for leukemia in the hopes of easing their financial burden.