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updated: 4/24/2014 9:57 PM

DiDomenico reflects on coaching two generations of Pirons

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  • Batavia cross country and assistant track coach Mike DiDomenico coached Dennis Piron as an all-state athlete in 1983 and calls it "something special" to be coaching Piron's son Peyton this spring.

      Batavia cross country and assistant track coach Mike DiDomenico coached Dennis Piron as an all-state athlete in 1983 and calls it "something special" to be coaching Piron's son Peyton this spring.
    Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer


Batavia junior Peyton Piron enjoys a unique situation.

"It's almost like I have my grandpa and my dad on the track team," he said.

The dad part is easy. His father is Dennis Piron, the Batavia graduate, and lifer, who coached the Bulldogs football team to the Class 6A state championship last fall and is in his 16th season as head boys track coach. Peyton is on both squads.

The "grandpa"? That would be Mike DiDomenico, who in the last of 33 seasons coaching Batavia boys cross country delivered the Bulldogs' first downstate team last fall. A physical education teacher from his hiring in 1980 through retirement last spring, DiDomenico also was Batavia's head boys track coach from 1981-87. Since then, except for a break to coach his children Jim and Sara at Crystal Lake South, he's been a Batavia track assistant.

A hurdles specialist -- Dennis Piron describe him as "a good tactician ... tough, patient, fair" -- DiDomenico has produced all-staters such as Rob Mohr and David Voland and, on the girls side, Melissa Norville, Megan Garrity and state champions Natalie Tarter and Kathryn Warner.

As head track coach, DiDomenico's first athlete to qualify for the boys state track meet was Dennis Piron in the 200- and 400-meter sprints. Where Dennis was "raw," DiDomenico said, a blank slate who joined the team to get faster for football, Peyton is more "astute," able to draw on his father's experience.

"He was new, so it was fun to teach him. He was all ears and eyes wide open," DiDomenico said of Dennis Piron, who he recalled being a little overmatched against flat-out sprinters like Kaneland contemporary Don Beebe, but gaining advantage over distance. One track trait the Pirons share, he said, is the aerobic capacity to be "good long sprinters."

As for Peyton, "He asks questions. He's very smart and he analyzes. As a coach you'd better be ready because they're questions that another athlete might not ask, but Peyton will. That's because he grew up the son of Dennis Piron, who obviously knows a lot about track and field."

A question Peyton's buddies ask him all the time, the boy said, is if it's "weird" having his father as coach. The two have shared teams since youth football and basketball practices.

"He's been coaching me since I was 5, so if he wasn't my coach it'd be weird," Peyton said. His first track mentor actually was Kaneland Hall of Famer Harold Anderson, training in the summer during elementary school. If Peyton has any issue with the current situation it's the occasional embarrassment of being the butt of his father's silly jokes in front of his friends.

Other than that Peyton doesn't feel singled out: "At home he's a dad, at school he's my coach."

As long as fathers have coached sons in organized athletics that arrangement has drawn accusations of favoritism, some accurate, others misguided jealousy.

For his contribution DiDomenico said: "I really want the best for any kid, not just Peyton."

The numbers don't support a conspiracy. A reserve receiver on the football team, last fall Peyton caught exactly 1 of Batavia's 179 pass receptions.

Last spring when Peyton was a sophomore in track three other Bulldogs, including one of this year's stars, Jorden Berendt, ran faster 400-meter times. Another returner, Clayton Siemsen, was the team's top 110-meter hurdler and the since-graduated Omar Medina the No. 1 300 hurdler.

Stopwatches don't play favorites.

"I know my skill level, he knows my skill level," Peyton said of his father.

It's up to both Dennis Piron and Mike DiDomenico to improve that level. From freshman year till now Peyton has dropped about five seconds from his 400 time, about three seconds off the 110 hurdles and six seconds off the 300s. Peyton credits his father for the first mark and DiDomenico for the improvements in hurdles.

DiDomenico said it's all up to the "conscientious" Peyton Piron.

"You tell Peyton pretty much what you want and he'll do it," said DiDomenico, who directed what he considers Batavia's best boys track team, the 1987 squad that earned a Little Seven Conference title by winning 10 of 12 running events with second-place finishes in the other two. In DiDomenico's first season, 1981, he had 17 boys on the varsity team though he said the Bulldogs won the frosh-soph level with athletes including Dennis Piron.

When Peyton Piron equated DiDomenico to a "grandpa," and Dennis Piron noted DiDomenico "is like a second father," there is substance there.

Dennis Piron's father, also named Dennis (the younger man is officially Dennis II) passed away before the Bulldogs coach graduated from high school in 1983. The Pirons and others such as Batavia graduate and current varsity baseball coach Matt Holm have benefitted by having folks such as the 59-year-old DiDomenico and former head football coach Mike Gaspari, now the offensive coordinator, serve as consistent role models for decades.

"I feel like my son loves him and looks up to him," Dennis Piron said of DiDomenico. He would say the same about Gaspari.

"Grandpa" feels the same way.

"What's great for me is I love Dennis," DiDomenico said. "We've had such a long, wonderful relationship for now more than 30 years, and for me to coach his son -- and for him to entrust me with his son -- I'm humbled and honored at the same time.

"I know how hard the sport is, and all the kids need encouragement," he continued. "But that being said, it is fun to coach your first athlete who made it downstate and the guy who took over the program after I left. And now to coach his son, it is something special. I enjoy it tremendously."

Like many of us Dennis Piron woke up one morning shocked to discover he was squarely in middle age. Suddenly there's urgency to savor these moments with his old coach and a school full of athletes including his own children. Peyton is a little more than a year from graduation; daughter Alex is a Batavia freshman soccer and basketball player.

Sooner than he once could imagine, he'll be the grandpa.

"I'm definitely trying to enjoy it, but boy, it's going fast," he said.

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