CHAMPAIGN — Winning an IHSA state wrestling championship has its perks. Guys like Urbana senior Luke Luffman and 2018 Centennial graduate Justin Cardani, among others, have learned as much over the years.
There's a spot atop a white, wooden podium. A medal indicating you're the best at your craft. The roar of fans inside State Farm Center, and plenty of images captured to immortalize the victors.
But there's something else, too.
It's a framed bracket, a few feet tall, for each weight winner within all three classes. Results are meticulously handwritten — from Day 1 through the title bout — over top of an orange cutout of the state of Illinois.
The man behind this annual project is Barry Mink.
He's a shop and computer technology teacher at Abingdon-Avon High School who is in his 30th year creating these oversized brackets — an extra way for prep grappling stars to remember their finest moment on the mat.
"I hear it from the coaches, and I just know (the kids) really enjoy having that," Mink said Friday afternoon. "It's just a fun atmosphere to be a part of."
The 58-year-old Mink spends the tournament's three days tucked below Section 119 at State Farm Center, furiously scribbling away on 42 boards displayed across his work station.
It's just Mink doing this deed in 2019. His wife, Carolyn, previously shared the duties. But Carolyn died in May 2018 after a battle with breast cancer.
"I couldn't have done it without her, really," Barry Mink said. "It's been a long time since I've done it by myself. It's pretty tiring."
Formerly a graduate student in architecture at the University of Illinois, Mink answered a callout for this part-time role as a way to bring in a little extra money. He also was a wrestler himself at Galesburg High School back in the day.
Even though this job takes up so little of his time in the grand scheme of a given year, Mink has made sure to record notes on how to best get it done.
For example, he no longer spends Wednesdays getting the brackets up to snuff. The reason?
"I did it more like calligraphy where I actually dipped the pen in ink," said Mink, who has since switched to Sharpies. "It was just ridiculously long and tedious, and there were a lot of mistakes."
Mink also had to be wary of bracket redraws before any action began, something that still happens without warning.
"That wasn't a good idea," he said, "to write the names before they started."
Though Mink admits the process is "not going to be perfect," the brackets possess a highly professional look. And they haven't gone out of style, even as other elements of the high school wrestling scene have changed.
"The ones that got them my first year are now middle-aged men, and a lot of them are coaches out here," Mink said. "Sometimes, I see them on TV in" Ultimate Fighting Championship.
This could be Mink's last go-round as the bracket man, though. He's on the fence, wanting to see just how he feels after 2019's showcase is in the books.
Mink has had discussions with Sam Knox, IHSA assistant executive director, about how the tradition might continue if Mink steps aside. So future grapplers can feel confident knowing these unique pieces of art won't be disappearing.
"It's always something my wife and I enjoyed doing together," Mink said. "Thirty's kind of a nice number, but I'm not sure yet. We'll see."