Cray Allen wasn't looking for a chance, but when Harper College came calling, Allen listened. Then he considered, and eventually decided to leave his position as Burlington Central's head softball coach to take on the challenge of resurrecting the program at the Palatine junior college.
Harper College athletic director Doug Spiwak announced Friday that Allen will be the school's new head softball coach.
"Cray Allen is a welcome member to our staff," Spiwak said. "His background in education and athletics made him the ideal candidate for the position. As a former player, he has a clear understanding of the value of the community college experience. As a teacher he will keep our students focused on completion. He will also be concentrating on the development of our student athletes. Our coaches are expected to serve as mentors as well as educators. He is ready to hit the ground running to get the team moving in the right direction."
Harper had to cancel its 2012 season due to lack of participation.
Allen comes to Harper following two highly successful head coaching stints at Lake Park and most recently, Burlington Central. At Burlington Central, Allen led the Rockets to a 46-26 mark from 2010-2012, including a 28-9 record and a Class 3A regional championship this season.
"It's a good opportunity to come in and take over a program that needs a breath of fresh air," Allen said. "Being able to recruit kids that fit your style of play is something that is very exciting as a coach. It's a step in the right direction for me and for my family. I love high school athletics but being a product of college athletics when I was going to school has really gotten me excited."
Prior to Burlington Central, Allen managed Lake Park to 135 wins against only 23 losses from 2004-2008. During his time at Lake Park, the Lancers won four conference championships, four regional championships and three sectional championships while making the state tournament three times. At the state tournament, Lake Park finished third, fourth and also lost in the quarterfinals.
Allen's departure from Rocket Hill leaves Burlington Central with two girls sports openings. Girls basketball coach Jenna Real resigned late last week after having her teaching job fall victim to a Reduction In Work Force.
BC Athletic Director Steve Gertz, who is leaving that position June 30 for the ADs job at Grayslake Central, said Friday he was sorry to see Allen leaving but understood Allen's decision.
"It's a career move for him and we wish him the best," Gertz said. "It's a big loss for Central. He came in and stabilized the softball program when we needed it. He did an outstanding job here and he's a great teacher of the game. I think very highly of Cray Allen."
Gertz said he hopes to have interviews completed for the girls basketball job and possibly a candidate selected by the end of next week. He did not put a timetable in hiring a new softball coach.
In college, Allen played baseball for two seasons at Southeastern Illinois College as an outfielder. After earning his Associate Degree, he moved on to Southern Illinois University before graduating from Illinois State University in 1997 with a Bachelor of Sciences in Education. Allen later earned his Masters in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Phoenix.
Allen currently teaches Technology Education at Lake Park and he has also taught at Homewood-Flossmoor. Allen also coaches travel softball in the off-season. He has coached the Northern Ice '95 Gold team, based out of Wauconda, for two years.
"His connection to high school athletics and travel softball will be key elements to recruiting local players," Spiwak said. "I believe students will recognize his energy and commitment to softball when they make the decision to play for Harper."
With his background as a teacher, Allen understands the importance of academics for a student-athlete.
"When we recruit, we want to make sure that the kids we recruit are prioritized and structured and have the discipline that it takes to be a student first and an athlete second," Allen said. "If the kid is going to be focused and motivated in the classroom, then we know that we will be able to motivate them on the softball field. Our priorities will be in order and success in the classroom will lead to that same success on the field."