Illini Legends, Lists and Lore: Dec. 23, 2018

Illini Legends, Lists and Lore: Dec. 23, 2018

Of the 44 pairs of brothers who have earned varsity letters as members of the Illini wrestling program, the very first siblings — Joe and Allen Sapora — stand out above the others.

The natives of Renova, Pa., a small lumbering community 178 miles northeast of Pittsburgh, matriculated to the University of Illinois and had legendary collegiate careers.

Joe, born in 1904, was recruited by then Illini coach Paul Prehn, but wrestled his final two seasons for Harold "Hek" Kenney. In 1929 and 1930, he was the nation's premier grappler at 115 pounds, winning back-to-back NCAA and Big Ten individual titles. Team-wise, Sapora and his Illini teammates won Big Ten titles in 1928 and '30 and placed second and fourth in the NCAA championships in 1930 and '29, respectively. Sapora went on to capture a pair of Amateur Athletic Union national freestyle titles for the New York Athletic Club, then became a professor of physical education and head coach at City College of New York. His biggest stars at CCNY were Henry Wittenberg, a gold medalist at the 1948 Olympics, and Jacob Twersky, a blind wrestler who was an NCAA finalist in 1942. Sapora retired from CCNY in 1968. He was inducted into the Helms Foundation Hall of Fame in 1994, two years after his death at the age of 87 in Daytona Beach, Fla. Sapora was a 2018 inductee into the Illini Athletics Hall of Fame.

Like his older brother, Allen was a dominant lightweight star at Illinois. The 126-pounder won the Big Ten title in 1937, then the NCAA crown in 1938. When he won the latter championship, it marked the first time that brothers won national titles. Sapora and his UI teammates won the Big Ten Championship in 1937 and placed second in the NCAA meet in 1938. Immediately afterwards, he became Kenney's assistant with the Illini and continued in that role until he earned his doctorate degree in recreation.

Sapora was a longtime member of the UI's teaching staff in leisure studies. He also became an accomplished wrestling official, serving at five Illinois state championship meets. Born 106 years ago today, Allen Sapora died in 2004 at the age of 92.

In 1993, Illini wrestling named its Most Valuable Wrestler award in honor of the Sapora brothers.

Other successful Illlini wrestling brother combos:

Adam, Alex and Troy Tirapelle (Adam was both an NCAA and Big Ten titlist, while Alex was a Big Ten champ)

Jon and Chris Llewellyn (Jon won NCAA and Big Ten titles)

Eric and Tony Siebert (Eric won an NCAA title)

Pete and Ben Friedl (Pete won a Big Ten title)

Allie and R.C. Morrison (Allie won a Big Ten title)

Pete and Frank Pakutinsky (Pete won a Big Ten title)

Lindsay and Dave Durlacher (Lindsay won All-America honors)

Paul and Jack Petry (Paul won All-America honors)

Conrad, Chris and Clinton Polz (Conrad won All-America honors)

Cassio and Jason Pero (Cassio won All-America honors)

Illini Birthdays:

Today: Jackie Wolfe, volleyball (28)

Monday: Mike McQuinn, football (57)

Tuesday: Mike Locksley, football coach (49)

Wednesday: Mike Toliuszis, golf (79)

Thursday: Tom Porter, wrestling coach (77)

Friday: Sandy Scholtens Hamilton, volleyball

Saturday: Jim Journell, baseball (41)

By Mike Pearson, author of Illini Legends, Lists & Lore (Third Edition now available in stores). Get more Illini birthdays, trivia and historical tidbits daily on Twitter@B1GLLL. His website is