When Johnny Weiger first stepped foot onto Montini’s campus as a freshman in the fall of 2011, neither he nor his family could have imagined the impact he would have on the school community. A Plainfield resident, Johnny chose to attend Montini because of the school’s football program, which at that point had won consecutive Class 5A titles in 2009 and 2010. Johnny played on the freshman team during the 2011 season as an offensive lineman and long snapper. Following the season, during which Montini captured its third consecutive state title, Johnny was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia. He underwent chemotherapy, radiation treatment, and a bone marrow transplant, and missed most of the remainder of the school year. Following his transplant, the Bronco football team visited Johnny in the hospital, and soon after, it was determined that the transplant was successful and Johnny was declared cancer-free.
Johnny was all set to begin his sophomore year at Montini in the fall of 2012 when he was hospitalized right before the start of school. He was diagnosed with TTP, a rare blood disease that can be caused by a bone marrow transplant. The entire Montini community rallied around Johnny following his sudden hospitalization, organizing a number of fundraisers to help the Weiger family. The student body wore orange t-shirts for the school’s annual Walk-a-thon and also for “Johnny Weiger Day” during Homecoming week. Not only is orange the color associated with leukemia awareness, but it also happened to be Johnny’s favorite color. Students, staff, and members of the community wore orange wristbands with the phrase “Johnny Always Wins” on them. The football team prayed for Johnny before every home game and designated one contest as a benefit game for the Weiger family. News of Johnny’s illness reached as far as the University of Notre Dame; Johnny was a huge Fighting Irish fan and his sister Lauren attended St. Mary’s College nearby. Linebacker Manti Te’o was spotted wearing an orange “Johnny Always Wins” wristband on several occasions.
Tragically, Johnny lost his battle with TTP on November 4th, 2012. His wake and funeral were attended by the entire Montini school community. Two days later, Montini traveled to Woodstock to take on long-time rival Marian Central in a quarterfinal match-up. Down 14-0 early, the Broncos rode their crowd and the cheers of “Johnny Always Wins” to an emotional 42-27 victory over the Hurricanes. Montini would go on to capture its fourth consecutive Class 5A title two weeks later, with Johnny’s number 76 jersey prominently displayed on the sidelines.
Today, Montini Catholic High School continues to honor this remarkable young man in a number of ways. Every year, an incoming freshman is given the Johnathan Weiger Memorial Scholarship, awarded to the student who the Weiger family feels best displays high moral character, deep commitment to faith, and academic excellence at the grade school level. This scholarship has been awarded annually since 2014, with all recipients listed below:
2019: Jaden McGee
2020: Danny Petersen
2021: Julia Gergen
In addition, the football program hosts an annual “Spirit of 76 Game,” where the team wears special orange-accented uniforms to honor Johnny. The Weiger family also honors a member of the program who exhibits great character, faith, and sportsmanship with the “Spirit of 76” award, which has been given annually since 2013. Previous winners are listed below:
2013: AJ Melarkey
2014: Sam Asta
2015: Sam Detmers
2016: Brendan Rauen
2017: Rian O’Connor
2018: Frank Conforti
2019: Patrick Peters
2020: Cooper Petersen
2021: Mario Florio
Marie Kalas, a member of the Montini Class of 2013, wrote an essay about Johnny Weiger that was published in America magazine in May of 2014. You can read the article here.