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updated: 10/30/2013 4:16 PM

Spivey, Felinski making progress with Wheaton Academy

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  • Rosary's Madison Ronzone and Wheaton Academy freshman Gretchen Pearson battle to the finish line in the Class 2A cross country regional on Saturday, October 26. Pearson took ninth place, Ronzone took tenth.

      Rosary's Madison Ronzone and Wheaton Academy freshman Gretchen Pearson battle to the finish line in the Class 2A cross country regional on Saturday, October 26. Pearson took ninth place, Ronzone took tenth.
    Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

  • Wheaton Academy's Noah Van Dyke takes seventh place in the Class 2A cross country regional on Saturday, October 26.

      Wheaton Academy's Noah Van Dyke takes seventh place in the Class 2A cross country regional on Saturday, October 26.
    Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer


A common notion is great athletes don't necessarily make the best coaches. Wheaton Academy is testing the notion with positive results.

Three-time Olympian Jim Spivey is the first-year co-head coach of boys and girls cross country with former program assistant Chris Felinski. The duo has directed the Warriors boys and girls teams to one of their stronger combined conference and regional finishes, which they hope to repeat in Saturday's Class 2A sectional meets at West Chicago's Kress Creek Farms.

"They really have an opportunity to do really well," said Spivey, who placed fifth and eighth, respectively, in the 1,500-meter runs at the 1984 and 1992 Olympic Games, and was a 5,000-meter semifinalist in Atlanta in 1996. He got his start in track at Fenton High School when Bison coach John Kurtz suggested he give it a go after an impressive gym class run.

The girls team Felinski and Spivey coach won the Suburban Christian Conference meet for the first time. The boys placed second to Marmion. A week later at regional, also at Kress Creek, the boys enjoyed their finest regional finish, second (something when Glenbard South is in the field), while the girls advanced with a fourth-place finish.

"I would love to see both teams qualify for state, and I feel both teams have the ability to qualify for state," said Felinski, a Warriors runner out of the Class of 2000, who even as a student at Judson University assisted then-Wheaton Academy track and cross country coach Bill Bickhart.

The boys top seven at regional were state track qualifier Noah Van Dyke, Brandon Lach, Jacob Robleski, Jonah Jones, Mitchell Smith, Jimmy Ridge and Jonah's older brother, Chris.

Youth paced the girls' finish. The top five of Gretchen Pearson, A.J. Setran, Sierra Stapleton, Claire Casto and Rebecca Smith, Mitchell's sister, all are freshmen. Gretchen's sister, Annika, and Shelby Fritz rounded out the regional squad.

At the head of these packs is a coaching partnership. Spivey, an All-America at Indiana University who then spent time with Al Carius at North Central College and later became the coach at Vanderbilt and University of Chicago, writes the athletes' workout programs. Felinski executes the daily details.

"Chris had been there 13 years working under Mr. Bickhart, he really has the logistic side of the equation down," Spivey said. "He emails the parents every two, three days. He does all the meet management. If we go to a meet he sets up all the buses and hotels. He keeps track of the budget. He does everything that anybody that is a head coach in high school (does)."

Spivey added: "My job is to write the training and to get the kids to peak at the right time and to create the environment of, yeah, to be successful, but I come from the Al Carius, North Central College background where you make training fun and everything will fall into place."

This season is a big adjustment for Felinski. He naturally developed chemistry and a friendship as a student-athlete and assistant with Bickhart, who after 18 years as Wheaton Academy physical education instructor and coach did not have his contract renewed. He's now the athletic director at Annapolis (Md.) Area Christian School.

Felinski and Spivey continue to develop their own chemistry and roles. It's obvious when people try to wrangle photos with Spivey that he's a big name, but it doesn't seem to derail what they're trying to accomplish with the Warriors.

"We have a working relationship and we're on the same page at practice," Felinski said.

Approached to consider the job after it was apparent Bickhart would not be back, Spivey works full time with the ASICS shoe company. He's also an avid bicycle rider who last year pedalled about 2,500 miles.

His mileage is way down due to his new coaching role, and he certainly has more job responsibility than he did when ASICS created the position specifically for him in 2006. Spivey thus sometimes feels a bit grumpy but, a la Al Carius, he hopes every day is a fun day for the Wheaton Academy runners.

"I love riding my bike, but I like to watch kids believe more about themselves," he said. "That's what it's all about. I like them believing they can do something they didn't believe they could do last July."

Yardage sale

The St. Francis Fathers' Club sponsored its fifth annual "Rush for the Cure" during the Spartans' Oct. 18 home football game against Guerin. The club pledged $4 for each yard St. Francis gained on a running play. That money benefitted Children's Oncology Services of Illinois, targeting its One Step summer camps for pediatric cancer patients.

A teenage cancer survivor who had attended One Step camps joined St. Francis coach Greg Purnell and team captains Mike Andelbradt, James Butler and James Kalfas as an honorary captain for the coin toss. He then spent the rest of the game on the field as a ball boy and was guest of honor at the Spartan Family Spirit Rally held after the game in the old-school Slant Dome.

The Spartans dads picked the right game to "Rush for the Cure." St. Francis ran for 342 yards and, perhaps feeling a little giddy, the Fathers' Club raised a total of $1,500 for charity.

Not just basketball

Waubonsie Valley graduate and former international basketball star Matt Miller stresses that his M14 Hoops development program is "for players to learn how to use basketball and not let it use them."

He backed it up Oct. 27 with a third annual fundraiser-slash-ball handling clinic. More than 300 people representing three generations came out to watch their kids and help Matt whip up some charity coin. M14 collected more than 400 pounds of food to distribute, and $3,000 to donate to breast cancer research.

Welcome home

The Chicago Red Stars women's professional soccer team on Tuesday acquired former Naperville Central superstar Casey Short in a deal with the Boston Breakers. Boston had taken Short with the fifth overall pick in the 2013 National Women's Soccer League College Draft, but a knee injury during a 23-Under U.S. Women's National Team match held her out of the inaugural NWSL season.

As a sophomore and junior track athlete at Naperville Central, Short won two Class AA 800-meter titles and also a 400 title. In soccer in 2008 she earned All-America honors by both Parade and the National Soccer Coaches Association of America. At Florida State she drew a display case worth of honors on the soccer pitch and in the classroom, as she led the Seminoles to top-10 national rankings each year there.

Good luck

Augustana senior linebacker and brainiac Erik Westerberg, a four-year starter out of York, will hear Thursday if he's won an all-expenses paid trip to New York City.

Westerberg is among 171 candidates from all divisions of college football, chosen by their schools as their team's best student-athletes, for the 2013 National Football Foundation National Scholar Awards.

Thursday the list was pared to 16 players who will win a trip to the Waldorf Astoria Hotel for the 56th NFF Awards Dinner on Dec. 10. Each will also receive an $18,000 postgraduate scholarship and one will be chosen as the 24th recipient of the William V. Campbell Trophy signifying the top football scholar. (Batavia 2013 graduate Zach Strittmatter, now a freshman receiver at Washington University in St. Louis, is one of five players nationwide who will attend the NFF Awards based on his high school career.)

Westerberg was the College Conference of Illinois & Wisconsin defensive player of the year in 2012, his second straight year leading the conference in tackles. An All-America on the field last season, the math major is also a two-time Academic All-America.

Follow Dave on Twitter @doberhelman1

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