By Matt Le Cren
For the Bugle
Eural “Mac” McLaughlin was a 5-foot-1, 118-pound quarterback his senior year at Dunbar High School in 1959.
In his final high school game, McLaughlin faced CVS star Dick Butkus, who promptly spit in his face mask from about eight yards away.
It was the last time anyone disrespected McLaughlin.
“That was the first time and the last time I saw Butkus,” McLaughlin said. “He couldn’t catch me. I was an angry little man.”
That was one of the stories McLaughlin related during his acceptance speech Sunday after receiving the Lifetime Service Award from the National Wrestling Hall of Fame Illinois Chapter.
Despite his small stature, McLaughlin, who grew to be 5-6, went on to play three sports at North Central College, lettering in football, wrestling and baseball, before spending a year in the Canadian Football League with the Saskatchewan Rough Riders.
After returning to the Chicago area, McLaughlin began what became a legendary career as a wrestling coach at Joliet Central, leading the Steelmen to a 508-192-9 record over a 40-year career that ended in 2010.
Under McLaughlin’s guidance, Joliet Central won the 1985 dual team state championship and produced 108 state qualifiers, including seven state champions and eight runners-up. But success wasn’t defined solely by victory.
“I tell my kids you can do it,” McLaughlin said. “Come in this room like you’re going to be a state champion.
“Not all of them will be but we treat them like that. I tell them there’s three things in our room that you do – look, listen and learn – and things will come to you.”
Good things have come to McLaughlin, who was inducted into the Illinois Wrestling Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1991.
He retired seven years ago to spend more time with his family but found he couldn’t stay away, so he now works four hours per day monitoring the cafeteria.
“(I missed) being around the kids,” McLaughlin said. “That’s why I went back because I’m around kids. I’m an authoritarian so the bigger and the rougher the crowd, the better off I am. My ambition every day was to create one kid and make him better.
“That means breaking him down and putting him back together. The next day I got another kid and I kept doing that.”
Beneath the gruff exterior lies a man who cares deeply about the kids he coaches and about the latest recognition he’s received from his peers.
“It’s a dream come true (after) all those years of sweat and toil with the kids,” McLaughlin said. “(I take pride) just from my peers coming up and telling me congratulations because for 50 years we’ve argued when we go against each other but at these meetings we love each other and we’re not ashamed to say that.”
Downers Grove South athletic director Randy Konstans, who held the same job at Lockport, was one of five other individuals also awarded the Lifetime Service Award.
“It’s just so humbling, not just (to be honored with) Mac but all of them,” Konstans said. “Especially when you consider the people that have gone in before.”
McLaughlin, who is in his 50th year working at Joliet Central, still helps out with the wrestling team when asked. He also is an official at the state finals.
“Every time they need me to yell at them I give them a rah-rah speech,” McLaughlin said. “I’m good at that. I try to motivate people.”
Konstans was asked what he thinks McLaughlin’s legacy will be.
“We won’t know until it stops because he’s still working the (state) tournament with us,” Konstans said. “But I think you got a glimpse of it in his speech.
“To listen to him talk, you see how he can reach kids. To me, that’s going to be his greatest legacy, is what he’s been able to do for wrestlers at Joliet Central for 40 years.”