Another school year has passed, and as the IHSA baseball and softball finals wrap up this weekend in Joliet and East Peoria, it's time for us to take our annual look at the top stories of the year involving high school sports and athletes in the northern Fox Valley.
So, without further ado, we offer the following -- and remember, there is no scientific process to this, it's just one guy's opinion.
10) The 2009-10 school year was not kind to Larkin High School. Coaches were suspended for lack of certification, the IHSA had to come in and audit the athletic department and the school was placed on probation for one year. Now, a year later, the probationary period has ended and things are running smoothly on Larkin Ave. Credit goes to Principal Jon Tuin for bringing in an organized and efficient AD in Chris Neibch, and credit goes to Neibch for righting the ship.
9) OK, so we might not "cover" Crystal Lake Central High School, but the passing of longtime Tiger AD, volleyball coach and softball coach Doug Blundy certainly does qualify as a story that affected the local sports scene this year. Blundy passed away on Jan. 3 at the age of 63 after a long battle with multiple myeloma, a form of cancer that attacks the plasma cells in bone marrow. In his 42 years at Crystal Lake Central, Blundy won over 1,000 games coaching volleyball and softball, the pinnacle of his career coming in 2007 when his volleyball team went 42-0 and won the Class 3A state championship.
8) For its entire athletic existence, Hampshire High School has played in basically the same conference -- beginning with the Little Eight, which became the Big Eight, which became the Big Northern. Now, after nearly 40 years of competing against the likes of Burlington Central, Genoa-Kingston, Marengo, etc., in conference athletic events, the Whip-Purs will turn the bus around and head to places like Grayslake, Crystal Lake and Johnsburg, among others, as they move to the Fox Division of the Fox Valley Conference. What a change it will be.
7) Two coaches who have persevered and endured long careers in the area reached the 300-win milestone this year -- Streamwood girls basketball coach George Rosner and Larkin softball coach Larry Hight. Rosner got his 300th win when his Sabres knocked off St. Charles North 54-41 on Jan. 14, and Hight his 300th when the Royals swept a doubleheader from Deerfield. Both good guys, they deserve recognition for putting in countless hours to help make young student-athletes better players and better people.
6) The only individual state champion in the area this season was Cary-Grove's Carly Loeffel, who won the event at the Class 3A state meet in Charleston with a leap of 5 feet, 8 inches. Loeffel's state title capped off another amazing year in sports at Cary-Grove.
5) The St. Edward football program was about as low as low gets when Mike Rolando took over the program in 2005. And the Green Wave even lost 24 straight games under Rolando. But the former Larkin standout stuck with it and this season, the Green Wave won the first playoff game in program history, defeating Chicago Uplift 44-8 in the first round of the Class 4A playoffs. St. Edward won 8 games for just the second time in program history and the future looks bright at Greg True Field.
4) Sectional champions at Streamwood have been few and far between and there's never been one in baseball, until this year. The Sabres outlasted South Elgin in an 11-inning classic in the regional finals then won two 1-run games in the sectional before finally falling to a superior Lyons Township team in the Elite Eight. Coach Steve Diversey, Daily Herald Honorary All-Area Captain Josh Harris and all of the Sabres should stand proud of what they accomplished this spring, becoming the first Elgin Area School District U-46 baseball team to make an Elite Eight appearance since Larkin in 1991.
3) They were destined to be champs again, but on a fateful November Saturday night Lyons Township snatched the dream away. Nevertheless, Cary-Grove's girls volleyball team had another magical season, finishing 41-1 a year after they won the Class 4A state title. Their runner-up finish to LT, which also only lost once during the season, is an accomplishment to be proud of.
2) For 22 years Bruce Kay patrolled the sidelines of Cary-Grove's Al Bohrer Field, building one of the strongest high school football programs in the state. There were some down years, yes, but Kay's teams always played tough hard-nosed football regardless of the record. And the record was pretty darn good -- 168-68 in those 22 years, a state runner-up finish and then the big trophy in 2009. Kay's best coaching job might have been this season when he led a young and inexperienced team into the Class 6A quarterfinals before losing in overtime to Rockford Boylan. Kay, a Hall of Famer, announced over the winter that he was retiring from teaching, coaching and being Cary-Grove's athletic director and this area will sorely miss his presence. But, of course, we wish Bruce all the best in his retirement. He's truly one of the good guys in high school sports.
1) Sadly, the top local sports story of the year is about loss. We lost two of the people who made Elgin High School athletics what they are, two who molded the Maroons' long and proud tradition. On Oct. 18, 2010, Bill Chesbrough passed away at the age of 92. Ches won 573 games in his 35 years as Elgin High's boys basketball coach, finishing second in the state in 1955. But beyond that he molded many young lives who went on to tremendously successful careers in whatever their chosen profession was. Then, on Dec. 17, 2010, Maxine Turek passed away at the age of 93. It was probably fitting that Maxine followed Ches shortly in death. The two were the staples of the balcony at Chesbrough Field House for many many years. Maxine was a pioneer in Illinois girls sports, leading Elgin High, the area and the state, into the equality age of female sports. Each of their legacies will live on long after you and I are gone from this world.
That's it. 2010-11 is in the history books. We're already looking forward to the 2011-12 season, which will mark 37 years since I started writing about Fox Valley high school sports. Wow. But I will say this: It never gets old.
Have a great summer everyone -- see ya around the softball field!