There's more than just a name behind track meets
Who are those guys?
Nearly every weekend track athletes and their parents might wonder whose name heads the cover of the invite program they're holding. Most of the time these folks are not household names, just normal people with passion.
Aside from a few meets that truly are memorials such as Yorkville's coed Matt Wulf Invitational, track generally acknowledges those who still walk among us. As former Lisle head coach and invitational inspiration Carlin Nalley likes to say: "It's not a memorial — yet."
Here we'll attempt to provide some a note or two on some of the people whose names are at the top of your program.
Mike VanDeveer, who retired only in 2005, will be familiar to Geneva people. The 1989 Illinois track coach of the year whose honorary coed invite was held April 13, VanDeveer served as a driver's education instructor for some 34 years. He was a head track coach for more than three decades and fittingly for the namesake of a coed meet, he helped countless boys and girls learn success on and off the track through competition.
Among VanDeveer's accomplishments, numbers-wise, were second- and third-place state track finishes, four sectional titles, 15 all-state individuals and 12 all-state relays.
Kaneland hosts two meets named after former program leaders, spanning different levels. This Saturday's Peterson Prep Invite is for varsity boys; then there's the Ralph Drendel Freshman Invite on May 20. Both men are inductees into the Illinois Track and Cross Country Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
The timing for Drendel will be perfect. Three days later on May 23 he'll be inducted into Kaneland's athletic Hall of Fame. The predecessor of current Knights boys coach Eric Baron, Drendel's teams won 11 sectional titles in a 14-year span. Over his 22 year head coaching career Drendel produced a whopping 41 individual all-state athletes, 21 all-state relays and five state champions. His 1990 and 1999 teams took third place in Class A, among eight top-10 state performances.
This program has always been sharp. In a long career from 1959-83, Kaneland track founder and athletic director Bruce Peterson went 220-40-2 in dual meets. A member of Kaneland's Hall of Fame, Peterson enjoyed a span of two state titles and a runner-up finish from 1975-77 with athletes like Ron Ackerman and Mark Claypool. He won the Fox Valley Relays 10 times and the McHenry Relays nine times, plus nine Little 7 and five Little 8 conference titles.
Batavia and St. Charles East host big meets that make this journalist-slash-track-fan appreciative and also, frankly, a little jealous. In their time these men were household names — their work reached many households.
Batavia's Les Hodge Invite, which hosted Geneva and Burlington Central on April 6, is named after the late, local writer who reportedly attended an estimated 10,000 to 12,000 sporting events during a 41-year career from 1951-1994. A member of the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame, according to a 1994 Chicago Tribune article, Hodge published his last column, for the Kane County Chronicle, on Christmas Eve 1993.
In keeping with Hodge's love of kids' athletic pursuits there are literally tons of boys who compete in the 100-meter dash at the invite of his name.
In a similar inclusive vein is St. Charles East's McCornack Invitational, a relays meet named for another dearly departed Chronicle writer, the late Elmore McCornack. Run this year the same day as the Les Hodge, the McCornack meet was initiated shortly after the sports writer's death in 1979.
"Elmore McCornack wanted a relay meet so that he could get the most amount of athletes in the newspaper the next day," said Saints boys coach Chris Bosworth.
This Friday Batavia's boys team is Wheaton Warrenville South's own honorary meet, named for Red Grange. In the early 1920s the "Wheaton Ice Man" was a seven-time all-stater and a state champion in high jump, long jump and two sprints. He also played some football.
Last Saturday morning offered early risers tiny snowflakes, and West Aurora's John Bell Invite got canceled. That denied people opportunities to see the smiling Blackhawks Hall of Fame member patrol the grounds while his wife, Carol, helped operate the timing system in the Zimmerman Field press box.
Bell went from a Milwaukee schoolboy to an Iowa collegiate to starting a 29-year teaching and coaching career West Aurora in 1970. Though he was a sprinter, in 1979 Bell was named Illinois field event coach of the year. Right up there with Kaneland's Peterson and Drendel, Bell compiled a sparkling dual-meet record of 341-49. His Blackhawks teams won 13 county titles and on top of that he won nine Skyway Conference men's cross country titles at Waubonsee Community — where for a bit he also coached tennis.
Over three straight weekends starting April 13, Glenbard West holds meets honoring past coaches — Hank Haake, Sue Pariseau and Jim Arnold. Current Hilltoppers head girls coach Kelly Haas ran for Pariseau, had the wonderful Haake as a history teacher, and welcomes former Glenbard West boys coach Arnold to her practices to this day. Batavia boys go to the first and third meets, Geneva girls to the Pariseau.
Of Pariseau, one of a select number of female ITCCCA Hall of Famer members, Haas said: "She built both (girls track and cross country) programs at West and really became a champion for girls' sports at a time when there weren't even any sports for girls. Sue will often speak of the fact that the only athletic chance she had as a high schooler was in cheerleading ..."
Interestingly, the DuPage Valley Conference bestows the winner of its boys 1,600-meter race with the Gil Dodds Trophy. Dodds, known as the Flying Parson, studied at Wheaton College and in the mid-1940s held both the American and world records in the mile. He'd reference scripture while signing autographs and once, after being told the distance of a race he was running would be doubled, reportedly cited Matthew 5:43: "Whoever shall compel you to go a mile, go with him two."
A true memorial meet is Yorkville's Matt Wulf Invite, a coed meet attended by Aurora Central Catholic, St. Francis and IMSA. This writer always figured it honored a coach. It does much more than that.
According to former Yorkville Foxes girls track coach Sue Gierzynski, Wulf loved sports but was born with a heart defect that wouldn't allow him to play. His sophomore year an infection sent him to the hospital for a month. He returned to school determined. Wulf told Gierzynski: "I could have died and no one would have known who I was."
With that he plunged into school life — athletic team manager, super fan, play actor. He used his artistic talent to design logos and T-shirt designs.
As a senior Wulf was told he'd need a heart and lung transplant. That didn't come soon enough, and he passed away before graduation. In his honor the girls track coach at the time, Mike Dunn Reier, created the Matt Wulf Invite. The program features one of his drawings on the cover.
Now everyone who sees that program will know who Matt Wulf was.
Follow Dave on Twitter @doberhelman1
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