On Tuesday night, Mark Mullen got an up-close look at one of the best teams in the history of the storied Stoughton High wrestling program.

The Vikings are the defending WIAA Division 1 state champions and are ranked No. 1 in the state while receiving national accolades.

It felt fitting that Mullen’s Janesville Craig program ended its 44-year regional championship drought to meet Stoughton in the team sectionals. Not only did Mullen attend Stoughton, but his father, Richard, was a team captain on the very first Stoughton High wrestling team back in the 1950s.

Richard passed away Jan. 14.

Stoughton officials recognized Richard Mullen briefly before Tuesday’s sectional.

And the Mullen family showed its appreciation following the match, giving a cash donation to the Stoughton wrestling program in honor of Richard.

“It was very touching,” Mark Mullen said afterward. “They said they were going to do something, but I didn’t know what. He (my dad) was on the very first team when it started way back when.”

Stoughton won 59-9 on a night that had some of the makings of a family reunion.

Mark Mullen grew up with Stoughton co-head coach Dan Spilde, and they were practice partners and teammates in high school.

“We used to travel to youth tournaments together all the way back in elementary school,” Spilde said. “That was back before seat belts were a big deal, so we’d have about four adults and 10 kids all piled in a van and we’d unload like clowns out of a station wagon.

“We’d grab some ice cream after and couldn’t wait for the next Saturday to do it all again.”

A photo and short biography of Richard Mullen were placed in the entryway to the gym. Organizers announced before the first match that in lieu of a moment of silence, Richard would have wanted the fans to cheer loud and proud for both teams.

“They’ve got an awesome program ... it’s a wrestling high school, that’s what it’s all about,” Mark Mullen said. “It was great to compete against them and see what it’s like to go against the best of the best.”

Spilde said several people involved with the Stoughton program, including an up-and-coming seventh-grader, came up with the idea to honor Richard at Tuesday’s event.

“I called to congratulate him (Mark) right away (Saturday), because not only did we know the team sectional was going to be here and he’d get to come back to his alma mater, but he also missed a few things this season with his dad being sick,” Spilde said. “It was pretty nice for his team to step up for him at the end of the season and really perform and get him here.”

Eric Schmoldt is the sports editor of The Gazette. Reach him at eschmoldt@gazettextra.com.

Eric Schmoldt is the sports editor of The Gazette. Reach him at eschmoldt@gazettextra.com.

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