Jan Marconi is in a tizzy over this.
She was perfectly overjoyed the entire football season. On Friday nights she’d join her son and daughter-in-law at Wheaton North to watch her grandson J.D. play at Rexilius Field. The next day she’d go with another of her sons and another daughter-in-law to Duchon Field to see her grandson Joey play for Glenbard West.
“I haven’t missed a game for those kids, I don’t think, since they were freshmen,” Jan said.
She certainly won’t miss this one. The Falcons visit the Hilltoppers with a Class 7A semifinal berth on the line.
But Jan Marconi’s definitely in a tizzy.
“Am I ever,” she said.
She’s got football in her blood. She’s the wife of the late Joe Marconi, running back on the 1963 World Champion Chicago Bears, who died of leukemia in 1992.
“I was telling everyone at the last football game after West had won, I said: Oh, this does present problems now because I’m going to feel so hurt for the grandson who is losing. I’ll be happy for the other one, but it’s so hard.”
Her grandson, Joe Marconi, is a 6-foot, 190-pound linebacker for Glenbard West, the son of former Western Illinois player George Marconi. Joe’s first cousin is J.D., a 6-foot, 190-pound defensive back for Wheaton North. His dad, also a Joseph, played at Wisconsin. The boys were born five days apart.
In situations like this even the simple things become difficult. Where does Jan Marconi sit — home or visitors’ section? Switch sides at halftime?
“Maybe I’ll stick with one end zone,” she said.
“I have been pacing a lot. I’m always thinking, how am I going to handle this? What do I say?”
And what to wear?
A friend who sits with Mrs. Marconi at Glenbard West games, Beth Kane, is devising an outfit that will represent both Wheaton North (royal blue and white) and Glenbard West (forest green and white). It says here a little Falcons gold trim would be nice.
“I don’t know what it is yet,” Jan said, “but it will be something.”
One part of her ensemble won’t change. Around her neck Jan Marconi wears a pendant that matches the championship rings the players received, given to the wives of the 1963 Bears by George Halas. She said the pendant is a good-luck charm and makes her feel as if her own Joe, her late husband, were there with her.
Joe and J.D. would have made him proud.
“I keep thinking the same thing,” Jan said. “If he was only here to see this.”
Nearly 50 coaches were nominated this year for induction into the Illinois Track and Cross Country Coaches Association Hall of Fame. The maximum of seven were chosen by the selection committee.
Around these parts one was a no-brainer — Lake Park’s Bob Nihells. He’ll go in at the annual ITCCCA Hall of Fame Banquet on Jan. 12 at Oak Park-River Forest High School. Nihells will be joined by Gary Coates (Princeton), Jimmy Daniels (Thornton), Dave Grim (Luther North), James Kwasteniet (Chicago Christian), Don Michelin (Evanston) and Mike Stokes (Prospect).
As a head coach beginning in 1982, Nihells led the Lancers to the 1997 Class AA championship. As an assistant to his hand-picked successor Jay Ivory, since 2001 Nihells has remained a huge part of the Lancers’ three straight Class 3A championships. He owns the reputation and record as one of the best high school shot put and discus coaches in the state, if not the best.
“Sometimes when you step down as a head coach the program wants to go in a different direction,” said Nihells, who retired as a Lake Park math teacher and the football team’s defensive coordinator following the 2010-11 academic year.
“The bottom line was, when I did step down Jay believed in me enough that I would do a good job as an assistant.”
A good job? Nihells has coached athletes who’ve thrown the top discus mark in Illinois (Dan Block, 208 feet, 11 inches in 2009) and the state’s top three shot put marks (Jeremy Kline, 67-6½, 2011; Jermaine Kline, Block).
Nihells had no track and field experience coming out of downstate Highland High School and Illinois College as a football player, but since he became Lake Park’s track coach he’s had a hand in developing 13 individual state champions, five team sectional titles, 10 Upstate Eight Conference outdoor titles and eight indoor championships.
His athletes have been a force in USA Track & Field, and he’s also a sought-after speaker and clinician, always a plus when athletic associations consider a nominee’s “service” aspect.
In 2011 Nihells was named Gill Athletic national boys track coach of the year; his 1997 state title earned him Illinois’ coach of the year. Funny, but none of the six children he’s raised with his wife, Patti — head girls track and cross country coach at Hampshire — ever participated in the sport.
Over the years Bob Nihells has also coached pole vault, sprints, hurdles, long jump, triple jump. He credits fellow Lake Park assistant Tom Kaberna — who may one day join the ITCCCA Hall himself — with “pushing” him toward continuing his education in clinics and participating in the Lake Park-based DuPage Track Club.
Nihells said he takes the most pride in not being “afraid to learn another event and (trying) to master it. When I came in my expertise wasn’t really in anything, so I had to learn from scratch ... Maybe it was good, maybe it was bad, but I was fortunate that I’ve had some great kids.”
Nihells has relied on observation, experience, education and osmosis. It’s an ongoing process.
“I’m still learning my craft,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve even gotten close to what I should be at. I’m still searching, still listening. I think that’s the secret to coaching, is never to be satisfied with what you think you know.”
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