Mirko Jurkovic was not only about what is right with athletics and the role it plays in life, but what is good in general.
He defined what Calumet City represents: good, hard-working people.
Jurkovic died Wednesday from colon cancer at the age of 42. He went way too soon. He will be buried this morning near South Bend.
He was a prep All-American football player at T.F. North High School and later starred at Notre Dame, first as a freshman defensive tackle on the 1988 team, which won the program's last national title, then on the offensive line, where he made consensus All-America.
He left a wife and three children, but also a lot of memories and a model for young kids in Calumet City to follow.
"He never got angry or lost his cool on the football field," said Jerry Munda, his coach at T.F. North. "Mirko and his brother John, both were tough kids, but also gentle.
"They were smart kids and they played smart."
This was the success story. A first-generation kid, he embraced books as much as he did an opposing running back or quarterback.
"I knew both of his parents, and they are the reason he and John are successful," Munda said. "Great hard-working people. Not show-offs, but proud people. You saw that in Mirko and John."
T.F. North athletic director Dale Pietranczyk was a childhood friend of Mirko and John, growing up on 155th Place in Cal City. The Jurkovics lived on 154th Place. They went to grammar school at St. Andrew The Apostle and to North.
"Mirko was a winner," Pietranczyk said. "In anything he did, whether it was football, basketball, or just playing fast-pitch on the St. Andrew playground.
"He won at everything. Even when we got poker games going, nickel and dime stuff, when we were kids. He and John always seemed to go home with a pocketful of our nickels and dimes."
That is not all Pietranczyk remembers about his buddy.
"Nicest guy you could ever meet," Pietranczyk said. "Big, intimidating, but just a great guy. No matter what, he always kept cool. He didn't lose control on the field. He was so big, when we played other schools, they always wanted to see his birth certificate. They couldn't believe someone who was so big could be born in 1970 and be 12 (years old)."
Current North football coach Artie Rogers never had the chance to know Jurkovic, but hopes his players will try to model themselves after him.
"We are all saddened by his death," Rogers said. "He was a big part of T.F. North football and he was a success on the field and classroom."
It is really a shame that Jurkovic died so young. I am sure those who knew him are glad they did. We didn't lose just a good football player, but a great person.
This column is solely the writer's opinion. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.