MOUNT GREENWOOD — Some families just have a knack for certain sports. The Manning family plays football. The Williams sisters play tennis. The Heffernans wrestle.
The youngest of nine siblings, Brendan and Pat Heffernan will face off on Saturday at the Marist Quad — a four-team wrestling tournament held at Marist High School, 4200 W. 115th St., in Mount Greenwood.
Brendan Heffernan has been the head coach of the Marist wrestling squad since 2008. His twin brother Pat Heffernan became the Gordon Tech High School wrestling coach last year.
The twins both wrestled at Marist and went on to wrestle at the University of Illinois. They'll square off as rival coaches for the first time on Saturday.
Brendan Heffernan is likely to get the better of his brother this weekend. Marist is ranked third in the state, according to the website Illinois Matmen. Another wrestling observer, InterMat, has ranked the RedHawks as the 17th-best squad in the nation.
Pat Heffernan has just 20 wrestlers on his Gordon Tech team, compared with the 55-man squad at Marist. He was motivated to participate in the upcoming tournament to give the Rams a chance to compete against Marist and the other powerhouse squads in the tournament — Dakota High School near Rockford and Marmion Academy in Aurora.
"He was always bigger than me," said Pat Heffernan, referring to both his twin brother's wrestling team and physical weight.
Indeed, Pat Heffernan wrestled in the 145-pound weight class in high school, finishing sixth in the state tournament as a senior. Brendan Heffernan wrestled in the 171-pound weight class his junior year at Marist, finishing fourth in the state. He moved to the 189-pound weight division as a senior and finished third in state.
"Even if we wanted to wrestle each other, the coach wouldn't let us," said Pat Heffernan, a Mount Greenwood resident.
He recalled one high school practice when the team was doing a king-of-the-ring exercise. The Heffernan boys were the last two men standing, but Marist Coach Mark Gervais stopped short of crowning a champion.
"He said he'd seen too many brothers get into fistfights," said Brendan Heffernan, who succeeded the highly regarded Gervais at Marist.
The twins aren't the only accomplished wrestlers in the Heffernan family, which is made up of six boys and three girls. All of the boys wrestled.
Brian Heffernan wrestled and played football at Syracuse University. Jim and John Heffernan both wrestled at the University of Iowa. John Heffernan is now a wrestling coach at St. Edward High School in Lakewood, Ohio. Jim Heffernan is the head coach of the University of Illinois' wrestling team.
Jim Heffernan was an assistant coach for the Illini when his younger brothers wrestled in Champaign-Urbana. He said the twins have always been competitive with each other, but that same competitive spirit is really more of a family trait.
"I tried as best I could to treat them like anyone else in the program. At the time they entered school, our mother had just passed away, so in my opinion, it was good time to have them with family," Jim Heffernan said.
The Heffernan twins wrestled at 197 pounds and 157 pounds, respectively, in college. Neither of them ever started at U. of I., but they were always ready in case of an injury. They also both wrestled in open tournaments.
In addition to coaching, Brendan Heffernan teaches English at Marist. Pat Heffernan teaches health, physical education and religion at Gordon Tech in Irving Park.
They both agreed that the lessons learned on the wrestling mat go beyond headlocks and double-leg takedowns. It's a tough sport, and there aren't any pregame pasta dinners, Brendan Heffernan said.
"We like to instill discipline, work ethic and the mental toughness that this sport teaches," Brendan Heffernan said, adding that a strong sense of family runs through the Marist locker room.
Pat Heffernan said his team also has a family feel. He credits his years as a wrestler for teaching him time management and other intangibles.
"Fighting through things that are going on like injuries, making weight or wrestling a tough match — just the mental stuff, that's what this sport gives you," he said.