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updated: 6/12/2014 10:06 PM

Once a Tiger, Baumgartner now a Scarlet Knight

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One of the nation's oldest universities, Rutgers looks forward to a fresh start. In July it joins the Big Ten Conference out of the Big East. In the middle of the transition is Sarah Baumgartner, and she's having a blast.

A rising star out of Wheaton Warrenville South's Class of 2000, Baumgartner is Rutgers' senior associate athletic director in charge of development, which translates to fundraising. She's also the lead administrator for the Scarlet Knights men's and women's basketball teams; Rutgers starts its Big Ten schedule in late summer along with fellow newcomer Maryland.

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"I absolutely love it. I wouldn't change it for the world," said Baumgartner, reached Tuesday during a break between presentations at the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics Convention in Orlando.

"I feel very blessed that I get to be in this job and do what I do. I have a lot of fun," she said.

Some folks may not consider working up to 70 hours a week a lot of fun. As the old saying goes, if you love what you do it's not work.

Last Dec. 20 Baumgartner was hired at Rutgers, which was founded in 1766. She came out of a similar associate athletic director position in development with Missouri.

In her seven-year stint there Missouri enjoyed a 60 percent increase in donor membership and a 40 percent increase in annual fund gifting. Overseeing a staff of 15, Baumgartner and her associates raised $84 million toward Missouri's "Going for the Gold" campaign. At Missouri, Baumgartner worked occasionally with former Louisville senior associate athletic director Julie Hermann, who was hired for Rutgers' top spot in May 2013.

Armed with a blinding white smile, Baumgartner has always had an appreciation for mentors, for coaches. She credits much of her success, her "backbone," to playing under Wheaton basketball coaches Jim Allured and Rob Kroehnke, volleyball coach Sue Thompson and former Tigers softball coach Ron Muhitch, who also happens to coach a little football.

"These coaches saw so much more talent and so much more than what I saw," Baumgartner said.

Playing up on the Tigers' varsity softball team as a sophomore, she recalled making "the most errors in Wheaton Warrenville South history at shortstop."

Muhitch was there to help her bounce back from the adversity, to the point that she walked on to the University of Illinois' first softball team as a freshman, earned a scholarship as a sophomore and finished as an all-Big Ten Tournament player and Sportsmanship Award winner.

Once humbled, she persevered.

"I learned a lot about that, and that's taken it tenfold at this level," Baumgartner said.

She won WW South's Katie Meier Award for girls athletics more than once. The award is named for the former Tigers three-sport star, a 1985 graduate and now the award-winning coach of the University of Miami women's basketball team.

Baumgartner doesn't know Meier but even back in high school realized the importance of the name and the honor. Perhaps among these 70-hour work weeks there'll be time for a meeting.

"Hopefully someday I'm an athletic director and I can hire her as a coach," Baumgartner said.

Her parents, Doug and Peggy, moved to Knoxville, Tennessee, in 2003. While she sees them frequently she hasn't been back to Wheaton in about five years. Her hometown, its people and its influence, stays with her nonetheless.

"I just truly feel it was a great foundation to me to be able to do what I'm doing, and what I love so much," she said.

Go the distance

Salute the Glenbard North softball team, the last DuPage County team standing to close the 2013-14 sports calendar year.

Congrats all around ...

To Waubonsie Valley outside hitter Michael Simmons and WW South outside hitter Jared Wilcox for having been selected for the Illinois High School Volleyball Coaches Association All-Star Game ...

To Naperville Central senior track and cross country runner Emily White, she of the perfect 36 ACT score, who earned a $1,000 George Dekan Scholarship by the Illinois Track and Cross Country Coaches Association ...

To Illinois State junior pitcher Jeremy Rhoades (WW South), selected by the Los Angeles Angels in the fourth round with the 119th overall pick in the Major League Baseball Draft.

Fireworks and such

The 40th annual Oak Brook Athletes of the Year will be announced July 3 at the Taste of Oak Brook, before the fireworks.

Girls nominees are: from Montini, Maggie Burke and Bridget Lucas; from Hinsdale Central, Marley Marano and Ellie Sidler; and from York, Callahan Hennessy.

Boys nominees: from Montini, Connor Costello, Tom Vivirito and Ryan Mullins; and from Hinsdale Central, Max Krohn, Ryan Haff and Aneil Srivastava.

Athletes from Fenwick and Nazareth are in the running, too.

The two winners will be presented by Village President Gopal Lamalani and Bob Maxson, who has been on the Oak Brook Athlete of the Year Committee since 1974 when he helped start the award with the legendary bon vivant, Paul Butler.

The high, hard one

Bob Landi came from the business world to succeed Don Riley as Montini's athletic director, and he also became the Broncos' baseball coach. Those careers ended Saturday with a sectional final loss to Fenwick, so Landi will get to spend time with his four grandchildren, two here in Illinois, two in Georgia.

Before he rode off into the sunset in everyman's English, he equated the trials and tribulations of baseball -- and it could be any sport -- with those of life itself. As we leave this prep calendar year of 2013-14, it's a reasonable way to end it.

"I've always felt the game of baseball is a template of what life is -- highs and lows, work your butt off and sometimes it don't go your way, work your butt off, sometimes it does go your way," Landi said.

"They don't know it now because they're in the teen years and everything, and they look at things a lot differently. But they will step back in maybe 10 or 15 years and say, you know, baseball is just like life. There are times I work my rear end off, didn't get the reward I was looking for, but I worked my tush off. And then there are times when I didn't work so hard and I got my butt kicked. Taught me a lesson there, too. That's life."

Landi continued.

"We've got kids that are going to be going to college, we've got 11 seniors graduating. Some of these guys are going to be studying medicine, some of these guys are going to be going into law, some of these guys are going to be going into teaching and coaching. They're going to find out what they learned on the diamond is what they're going to take from it. I'm looking forward to seeing those guys in 10, 15 years."

We'll see you in August. Have a great summer.

doberhelman@dailyherald.com

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