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Wrestler Sal Annoreno

Sal Annoreno

Sal Annoreno

Very few individuals ever have a city or village issue a proclamation in his or her honor, yet Sal Annoreno experienced that before his 18th birthday.

Bartlett Village President Michael Airdo proclaimed March 6, 2012, Sal Annoreno Day in the village after Annoreno had won the 132-pound state championship at the IHSA individual wrestling meet a few weeks earlier.

Annoreno’s title-winning performance marked the first time in Bartlett High School history that a wrestler had ever won a state crown. He also is only the fourth grappler to ever win a title from Elgin School District U46–the largest school district in Illinois outside of Chicago.

Not only that, the village has a road sign at Bartlett High School honoring Annoreno, who was a junior last year.

“It was my dream come true,” Annoreno said of winning the state crown. “It was something I’ve been dreaming of my whole life. It’s definitely one of the happiest moments of my life. I get butterflies anytime I think about it.

“It (the road sign) feels good. But it’s hard to look at sometimes, from what happened this year.”

Annoreno moved up from 132 to wrestle at 138 for his just-completed senior season, and unfortunately came up short in his bid to repeat as a state champion. He fell in the quarterfinals at state and then lost in wrestlebacks, which eliminated him from further competition.

Annoreno said a big reason he won the state title in 2012 was due to the rapport he developed with his then head coach, Karl Bratland, who is no longer coaching at Bartlett. This year, Bratland was a volunteer coach at Naperville North High School.

“It definitely had an impact on me,” said Annoreno of Bratland’s departure. “He was practically my partner last year. He ran the (practice) room really tough. It was more of a challenge this year. It was more mental (this year) than anything else. There was a lot more pressure coming back. If you’re the (defending) champ, a target is on your back and everyone’s gunning for you.

“I’m disappointed (not winning another state title), but I’ve got to move on; I can’t dwell on it. I did what I could with what I had.”

“Coach Bratland really worked a lot with Sal,” said John Annoreno, Sal’s father. “He was a younger coach, very energetic and was able to work out in the room with the boys. He made Sal believe that he could do it, and that was a big thing for us last year.”

Wrestling USA Magazine had Sal ranked as the 16th best junior wrestler in the country at 132 last year — a year in which he also took second at the Preseason Nationals, held in Iowa.

Annoreno is looking forward to continuing his wrestling career later this year at Northern Illinois University, which offered him a partial scholarship. The conference in which NIU competes, the Mid-American Conference, is better known as a football conference, but Annoreno believes it will be a tougher wrestling conference with the additions of Missouri and Northern Iowa.

“It’ll be fun,” said Annoreno, who also had an offer to wrestle at Arizona State. “I have a strong connection with the coaches (at NIU). I like the team, and I wanted to be able to see my family. I’m a strong family person.”

Last year’s appearance at the state tournament, where Annoreno won it all, was the first time he had competed at state in high school. But there was a time towards the end of his freshman year when Annoreno didn’t know if he’d ever wrestle again.

That’s when he broke the L5 vertebra in his back. He wore a brace for five months, and had it on 24 hours a day for three of those five months.

“I could barely walk,” he said. “The doctors said to try the brace out and if that didn’t work I had to get surgery. It was a scary feeling being injured and there’s nothing you can do about it, but luckily it (the brace) did work out.”

“He’s overcome a lot of adversity throughout his high school career,’ John said. “The only thing he could do for exercise was ride a stationary bike. So he and I went over to the Lifetime gym and he did that for three months straight.”

Annoreno, whose full first name is Salvatore, is named after his paternal grandfather. The Annoreno family is originally from Sicily. The family of John’s wife, Anna (Leopardi), is from Mola di Bari, where her mother, Graziella, and her father, Vincenzo, were born. Sal, who has an older sister, Gracie, says his family, particularly his parents, has been a big influence on his life on and off the mat.

“They’ve always been there for me, and have always had my back,” he said. “It’s going to be weird next year (going off to college), but they’ve really helped me out and have always been there for me.”

Annoreno began wrestling in the second grade. In addition to wrestling at the high school level, he’s been competing with the Gomez Wrestling Academy in west suburban Carol Stream since the fourth grade.

During the season, it’s not unusual for Annoreno to be wrestling seven days a week, whether it’s practice or actual competition. Maintaining his wrestling weight throughout the season, he said, is tougher at the start of the year “but as season goes on you get it down to a science.”

“You know how body functions and how it reacts to what you put in your body,” he said. “I eat really healthy and know what I’m supposed to eat and not what to eat.”

But Annoreno doesn’t watch his diet on Christmas Day when his grandmother cooks up some choice Italian dishes.

“She cooks really good Italian food,” Annoreno said. “At that point I don’t care (about his wrestling weight); I just eat that day. We’re a close family and we all support each other.”

“We have a lot of mostly good holiday traditions on Anna’s side of the family, mostly with her mom,” John added. “Especially Christmas with the fish pasta dishes and all the Italian cookies and everything. That’s a big part of our Christmas holiday season. They spend all day cooking.”

About Mike Sandrolini

Mike Sandrolini has been published in the Elmhurst Independent, Voyager Media, the Daily Herald, the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Bear Report. His stories and columns have been recognized for editorial excellence at regional, state and national newspaper contests over the years. He also has co-authored two books: "Bear With Me: A Family History of George Halas and the Chicago Bears" and "All the Good in Sports." His father, Raymond, is a native of Gaggio Montano, a small village around 30 miles southwest of Bologna.