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updated: 12/15/2011 5:27 PM

Zierk was truly the 'Mom of Central'

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  • Marsha Zierk

    Marsha Zierk


Today's column was going to be some random questions and thoughts about the upcoming basketball holiday tournament season.

But that's going to have to wait.

Life threw us a little curveball Wednesday night when we learned of the sudden passing of Marsha Zierk.

Marsha was, for 37 years, a teacher and coach at Burlington Central High School. She came to District 301 as a traveling elementary physical education teacher in 1973 and also became the Rockets' first high school varsity girls volleyball coach.

From then until this past June when she retired, Zierk worked at Central High School, coaching, teaching, mentoring and helping mold the lives of thousands of students and student-athletes. With the passing of Title IX in 1972, she was also instrumental in bringing Central's girls sports programs out of the Girls Athletic Association age and into Illinois High School Association sports.

"She was really an advocate for kids and girls sports," said current Central Middle School principal Lloyd Stover, a 1973 Central graduate who also served a term as Central's high school athletic director.

"She was the first volleyball coach and she was respected by many throughout her career because of her love for her students. She always tried to do her best for her students.

"She did a lot for District 301 and she will be missed by many."

My personal memories of Marsha -- I was a junior at Central her first year as a coach there -- were confirmed as being accurate Thursday when I talked to a player from her first team as well as a 2010 graduate who had Zierk as a coach and teacher.

Marsha was, at first glance, a tough woman who you knew you probably shouldn't cross. But once you got to know her you quickly realized what a genuine caring heart she had and how she always acted in the best interests of her students.

"I met her when I was 12 and she was my seventh grade volleyball coach," said 2011 alum Taylor Colby, now a sophomore at the University of Iowa. "At first I thought, 'she's tough and kinda scary.' But once you got to know her, you never forgot her. She's that teacher you always remember. I had her for English and she ran the National Honor Society. I'd go hang out in her classroom and she'd tell me stories about her boyfriend who had to go to Vietnam and he got killed. She was full of stories and she really impacted her students a lot."

Over the years, while others came and went, Zierk remained at the only school she ever worked for following her graduation from Fenton High School and Western Illinois University. She had a daughter, Jamie, and a son, David, who went on to be a star basketball player at Central. She got her Master's degree from NIU.

"She was such a sweetheart," Colby said. "She was the Mom of Central. She knew how to handle everything. She was a good one and we'll miss her."

In 1973, coaches could be quite a bit more, shall we say, direct, than they can be today. And Zierk was one of those coaches.

"She was a hard-nosed coach," said 1976 graduate Kathy (Leffler) Cheperka. "If you didn't do your job you were out. I remember her standing up on her chair during practice and if you even came close to the net she'd be yelling 'NET!' at you.

"But you could talk to her. I liked her a lot on and off the court. She was a great coach. We did very well that first year and that was due to her."

Marsha was 61 and had recently been diagnosed with cancer. She was an advocate for teachers and education on a local and national level and a past leader of the Central Teachers Association. She had five grandchildren.

Funeral services will be at 6 p.m. Saturday at Laird Funeral Home, 310 S. State Street in Elgin. Visitation will begin at 2 p.m. Saturday. Burial will be private.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests memorials be directed to the Marsha L. Zierk Education Fund, c/o Old Second Bank, P.O. Box 8018, Elburn, IL. 60119.

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