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Article updated: 9/13/2012 9:08 PM

It's a complex time for the Monken, McNamara families

By Patricia Babcock

Every Friday in the fall used to be "Take Your Son to Work Day" for the Monken and McNamara families.

But neither Tony Monken nor Bill McNamara lugged their sons to a stuffy office. It was always out to the football field for young Anthony Monken, as well as little Dylan and Connor McNamara.

The three boys grew up on the sidelines, as they watched their dads coach the varsity teams at Vernon Hills and Stevenson respectively.

"Connor and I would be ball boys," Dylan McNamara said. "It was cool because being down on the field, you could feel all the emotions of the game. And all the players were so nice to us. We loved being a part of Stevenson games."

"I started being a ball boy when I was like 7 or 8 years old," Anthony Monken said. "When my dad first became the head coach at Vernon Hills, I had to watch from the stands because I was still pretty young. I remember I couldn't wait until I was older so that I could get on the sidelines and start being a ball boy."

Now in high school, Anthony Monken is still on the sidelines. Ditto for Dylan and Connor McNamara.

Things are a bit different now, though.

Instead of being ball boys, Anthony, Dylan and Connor are all players. And instead of sharing the same sideline with their dads, they stand on different sidelines, sometimes three or four towns away depending on the night, and they wear team colors that look nothing like those they grew up in.

Anthony Monken, a junior, is the back-up quarterback at Libertyville. Meanwhile, senior Dylan McNamara is a starting running back at Vernon Hills, where his brother Connor is a freshman quarterback who just got moved up to the sophomore team.

Considering that most varsity games in Lake County take place on Friday nights, football isn't quite the family affair it once was for the Monken and McNamara families.

Tony Monken is busy coaching at Vernon Hills when Anthony is playing for Libertyville. And Bill McNamara is off coaching at Stevenson while his boys Dylan and Connor are playing for Monken at Vernon Hills.

"It's been difficult," Vernon Hills coach Tony Monken says without hesitation. "You spend your life going to all of his youth games when he's younger, helping coach his teams when you can, trying to be a part of his development. And now that he's in high school, you really don't get to see him much. You don't get to support him. That's very hard.

"Whether kids say it or not, they know when their parents are there and when they're not."

It's a dilemma that Stevenson coach Bill McNamara wrestles with often as well.

"Actually, it's a thought that never goes away," said McNamara, who supported his sons all through youth football just like Monken did with Anthony. "Knowing that I'm missing them by not being in the stands is something that I think about all the time.

"But the whole reason I got into education is that I love working with kids and coaching football is my passion. It's just that now that my kids are older and they're playing at the same time that my team is, there's a sacrifice that has to be made there."

Anthony, Dylan and Connor haven't been caught by surprise here. They spent years watching their dads dedicate themselves to their players, their teams and to the game. They know the deal. They wish the logistics worked out differently, but they understand why they don't see their dads in the stands.

"We know that this is his career and that he loves coaching," Dylan McNamara said.

"I'm OK with it," Connor McNamara added. "I know my dad can't see me right when I'm playing, but I know he'll see me eventually."

Call it progress, or the wonders of technology.

Years ago when Tony Monken played football at Wheaton North High School, for instance, his own dad Robert missed plenty of his games because he was the head coach at Lake Park and was busy coaching his own team.

For Tony's dad, catching up with a grainy, choppy film had to suffice.

Now, the quality of game footage is much better, high-definition even. On top of that, Tony Monken can not only catch up on Anthony's games, he can also watch all of his practices as well. At Libertyville, everything the Wildcats do on the field, games or otherwise, is taped and then uploaded into an Internet account that each player can access from home with a password.

Talk about a handy way for the Monkens to work around their dilemma.

"It'd be better to have him there at the games, but I actually enjoy sitting down with my Dad and having him break everything down with me on the video," Anthony Monken said. "We talk about my footwork and about what I can do better. We end up watching most of my games and practices together. I'll even watch his games with him.

"It's a lot different than it used to be when I went to all of his games and he went to all of mine. But it is what it is, and I accept that. We still spend a lot of time together."

During football season, the McNamaras spend time together in much the same way. Despite the fact that Bill McNamara is technically a North Suburban Conference coaching rival, Tony Monken gladly hands over his game videos so that the McNamaras can enjoy a similar postgame viewing experience in the comfort of their home.

"I always really like Saturdays when I get to sit down with my dad and go over the video," Dylan McNamara said. "I like to hear what he says about how I did. I'm always anxious to get his feedback.

"I wish he could be there to see it all in person, but this is the next best thing."

A few years ago, both the Monkens and the McNamaras contemplated a choice that wouldn't have forced them to settle. They thought about moving so that the sons could play for their dads, and "family football Fridays" could be properly restored.

But in the end, all three sons wanted to stay with the friends and teammates they had grown up with since pre-school.

"I think it would have been really fun to play for our dad," Connor said. "But all of our friends were going to Vernon Hills. I think Dylan and I both knew we would enjoy that more.

"I think we both thought a lot about (the down side), too. If we had gone to Stevenson, we wouldn't have wanted anyone to be under the impression that we were getting things because of our dad."

The dads are just relieved that their sons won't be getting any bumps or bruises courtesy of their teams. The dads and sons happen to play in opposite divisions of the North Suburban Conference and could only play each other in crossovers. The way the schedule works out, Anthony will graduate before Libertyville plays Vernon Hills again, and Stevenson isn't scheduled to play Vernon Hills any time soon.

"For the dads, I could see it being tough (to game plan for your own kid)," Anthony Monken said. "But as a player, I think it wouldn't be a big deal at all. I mean, I would kind of like to play against my dad's team and see it from that side."

Then again …

"I think it would be fun to play Stevenson," Dylan McNamara said. "But in my family, we're always joking that if that happened, one of us would have to go stay at a hotel for that entire week leading up to it."


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