In the winner-take-all context of competitive athletics, Al Carius' famous slogan spanning 50 years with the North Central College men's cross country and track and field programs sounds quaint, even naive:
"Run for fun and personal bests."
It is affirmed, though, not only by success -- consider that the school achieving the highest average finish at the NCAA Division III men's cross country, indoor and outdoor track championships is honored as the Al Carius Program of the Year -- but by how his Cardinals carry themselves through life.
"One of the greatest things about him is, obviously he's had tons of success with all the awards and accolades, but for him that wasn't what it was about," said Wheaton Warrenville South graduate Kyle Brady, a seven-time All-American and two-time individual national champion at North Central from 2006-10.
"It's just to be a good person and do the best at whatever you're doing," Brady said. "He always made sure it didn't apply just to running ... It was more about building relationships with people."
Brady is among countless scores of Carius acolytes coaching at all levels, nationwide. He assists Carius in cross country and Frank Gramarosso in track and field. After 28 years on staff, in 2010 Gramarosso succeeded Carius as men's track coach. Carius remains associate coach.
Hordes of people who share Brady's appreciation for the motivational coach will show Friday afternoon at the aptly named Al B. Carius Track. The 32nd annual North Central College Alumni Meet will feature a tribute to Carius' 50 years coaching at the Naperville school. Sports information director Clark Teuscher expects a "significant increase" from the roughly 450 alumni and students who attended last year's meet.
One in attendance will be Mike Newman. The editor for Dyestat Illinois and national editor for the TFX ranking system, he is the state's foremost media authority on prep track and cross country.
That's a direct extension of learning from Carius at North Central College as well as fellow legend Joe Newton at York. Their passion is contagious.
"Two of the best cross country coaches ever," Newman said. "Coaches, yes, but also teachers, because not only did Al teach about cross country and running but taught about life and aspects about running that I use now in everyday life."
Enjoying the moment, he said. Loyalty and a bond "that never dies."
North Central College has won all of its record 16 Division III cross country titles (and 15 runners-up) and 10 indoor or outdoor track championships since Carius arrived in 1966 after two years as a graduate assistant at Illinois.
Although he was a five-time Big Ten champion, was named cross country "Coach of the Century" and is in the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association Hall of Fame among others, the 73-year-old Carius feels uncomfortable in the spotlight.
"When I was in school I was kind of a back-row guy," he said.
He's certainly a top-notch guy.
"I can't run with the guys, I can't keep up with them," Carius said. "But I think I can call upon all the failure I've had, all the trial and error throughout the years, and use that in terms of helping young people -- individually and as a team -- connect in the direction we want to go.
"Philosophically, I feel very committed to what we do, continuing to be linked to education and continuing to be a learning laboratory in learning life lessons that can contribute to a person being successful throughout their life.
"If the program is conducted properly, I think through athletics you can learn and make words like leadership, work ethic, a lot of different things really can be learned in your experience in track and cross country."
First of their kind
For any hall of fame there can be only one inaugural class.
That's the status Lindsey Wisdom-Hylton, Keelan Amelianovich, Jessica Wagner Stolze and Brittany Bock will claim Saturday at Neuqua Valley's first Hall of Fame induction between girls and boys varsity basketball games, around 7:15 in the gym.
Bock, Neuqua Class of 2005, still competes in her sport, a former Parade All-America soccer player now with the Chicago Red Stars. She earned a slew of honors while at Notre Dame, and at Neuqua she helped win the school's first girls state title the spring of her senior year.
Wagner Stolze, among Neuqua's first graduating class in 2000, already had four all-state swimming honors when she came to the south Naperville campus after her freshman year at Waubonsie Valley. Never beaten in high school in the 100 breaststroke, she earned 10 more all-state finishes before earning 12 All-America honors at Arizona and an Olympic Trials bid.
Wisdom-Hylton is an assistant women's basketball coach at her alma mater, Purdue. Out of Neuqua's Class of 2004, she became the first girls player in Illinois to reach 1,000 points, 1,000 rebounds, 500 steals, 500 blocks and 500 assists, according to Wildcats stats. Before she was drafted by the Women's National Basketball Association, she played on two gold medal-winning U.S. national teams.
Amelianovich, Class of 2002, earned all-state honors in both baseball and basketball at Neuqua. Still the Wildcats boys basketball program's leader in points and 3-point baskets, Amelianovich went on to earn three D3Hoops.com All-America honors at Illinois Wesleyan and in 2006 was the ESPN College Division Academic All-American of the year.
Naturally, he's now a senior manager at the Ernst & Young accounting firm, married with his first child expected in March. The former Ashley Patten had kidded her husband that this Friday she'd be inducted into Dwight High School's hall of fame for softball. What had he done lately?
"Then a couple weeks ago I got the call they were starting one," Keelan said.
He credited baseball coach Robin Renner and basketball coach Todd Sutton, was most proud of going from six basketball wins as a freshman to 26 as a senior, and stated what only a select group can.
"To be in the first class is something special."
Wheaton Academy graduate Ryan Dzingel earned his first NHL recall, by the Ottawa Senators on Dec. 21. The 23-year-old center got his name in the books in 5:25 of ice time during a 2-1 shootout loss Dec. 22 to the Florida Panthers. A 2011 draft pick, Dzingel returned to the Binghamton (N.Y). Senators of the American Hockey League, where he's the second-leading scorer for Ottawa's top affiliate.
Also in December, Benedictine University's winningest football coach, Jon Cooper, announced his retirement after 11 seasons. Inheriting a team that went 1-9, Cooper led the Eagles to a record of 62-51 with three Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference titles. The first, in 2010, was Benedictine's first conference title since 1934.
In other Benedictine news, on Nov. 5 it was announced the school will host a Prospect League baseball team beginning this summer. The field manager is Joe Lincoln, the CEO is Josh Schaub, and at 4:30 p.m. Jan. 12 at Country House Restaurant in Lisle the team's colors, logo and name will be announced at a news conference open to the public. Will it be the Woodsmen, the Mighty Oaks, the Infantry, the Fighting Arbor or the (please, no) Drones? Find out.
Erik Swenson, Downers Grove South's 6-foot-7, 310-pound senior offensive tackle, was the sole Illinoisan named to USA Football's Under-19 National Team. The Michigan recruit will play against Canada in the seventh annual International Bowl on Jan. 31 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, home of the Dallas Cowboys. Naperville Central junior linebacker Laddie Skarecky is on the U-18 Select Team that will play Ontario's U-18 squad on Feb. 5.
Special night for Special Olympics
Metea Valley Special Olympics coach Michael Ackerman is a smart one. If he was organizing a basketball game between his athletes and the Metea faculty, why not start at the top?
"The first person to ask was our principal," said Ackerman, who successfully enlisted Darrell Echols to play in the "Pack the Stands" games from 6-8 p.m. Thursday at Metea. The school has two Special Olympics basketball teams, and each will play a half against Mustangs staffers.
In his fourth year coaching Special Olympics, Ackerman has tried to up the ante each of the event's three years. First it was Metea vs. Waubonsie Valley; last year Metea's girls basketball program mixed in with Ackerman's kids. Now, the teachers.
"I just look for a few ways to bring in a decent crowd," said Ackerman, a special-education teacher.
He's found them, incorporating a 50-50 raffle, the varsity cheerleaders and school pep band, the Metea Valley Orchesis Dance Company and a halftime ceremony honoring all the school's senior Special Olympics athletes. Metea also offers competition in aquatics, track and field, bowling and soccer.
To fill out the faculty squad Ackerman asked all the school's department chairs for nominations. From Echols on down the response was positive, and Ackerman thinks this will be the model for future "Pack the Stands" nights.
"I think that's one thing about our school," he said, "is everyone has shown support for this program."