A new year is here. Robin Renner hopes it's a hit.
Retiring as Neuqua Valley physical education teacher and baseball coach at the end of this school year, after a seven-year hiatus Renner and the Neuqua Boosters will present the Opportunity Through Baseball dinner and benefit on Jan. 28 at Two Brothers Roundhouse in Aurora.
"That event has been one of the best things that our program has done over the years," said Renner, an Illinois High School Baseball Coaches Association hall of famer coming off a 35-2 season, better even than the 35-8 mark his Wildcats compiled to win the 2007 Class AA title.
"I'd like to make a plea to all the former players and families of our program, I'd love to see them come back for one last time," Renner said.
A 1976 East Aurora graduate, since Renner started supporting OTB beneficiary the Aurora Neighborhood Baseball League for disadvantaged players, he's directed about $160,000 to the program.
"It's never been about him," said retired Neuqua Valley athletic director Barb Barrows. "It's always been about the kids who can benefit through his actions."
OTB also will support the Marie Wilkinson Food Pantry in Aurora; the Special Spaces organization that creates "dream bedrooms" for children with life-threatening illnesses; Endurance with Jan and Dave Dravecky; and Neuqua baseball.
Dravecky, who with his wife helps people who've experienced loss, serious illness or depression, was an all-star pitcher who had his career ended by a cancer that eventually required the amputation of his throwing arm. He'd spoken at Opportunity Through Baseball in the past and this year, in honor of Renner, he's accepting no fee.
Also speaking will be 2013 Neuqua grad David Gerber, now pitching in the Seattle Mariners organization, who dealt with adversity following the passing of his father.
Renner also will address the crowd, "and nobody's gonna want to hear that," he said.
That's not true. He may not bring it up Jan. 28, but Renner has a compelling back story.
While still at East Aurora, Renner's father took him to a farm in Plainfield, where a family friend trained horses for harness racing. Renner groomed horses there even while playing ball at Waubonsee Community College and Aurora University.
On the day he graduated he started his own horse-training business, which he held for 12 years. Renner raced in sulkies at Sportsman's Park, Maywood, Balmoral, Hawthorne, Quad City Downs.
He didn't get into education until his early 30s, starting at Hill Middle School. He was at Neuqua Valley when it opened in fall 1997. He's been married 36 years to Diane, and the couple has grown children Brett and Brady.
Neuqua Valley's sole varsity baseball coach has won 11 regional titles, five sectionals, a 2008 third-place finish and fourth in 2013. Owning a lifetime record of 476-223, Renner and his longtime assistant, John Fumagalli, led the Wildcats to the 2017 DuPage Valley Conference title at 22-1.
He's humble, sincere, authentic, a dry wit.
"He's the most-loved teacher in the building, especially among the special needs kids," said Wildcats boys basketball coach Todd Sutton.
Renner curtailed Opportunity Through Baseball for seven years because he'd lose sleep worrying about ticket sales and finding items for the live and silent auctions.
Along with goodies like Grand Ole Opry tickets and backstage passes, a 1997 Super Bowl program signed by Brett Favre and Reggie White, an overnight at the Waldorf Astoria Chicago and a golf foursome at Butterfield Country Club, he's packaged a Danny Kaye-signed baseball, a photo of Kaye in a Dodgers uniform and a 45 of his "Dodgers Song." He tracked down a picture of Lou Gehrig with Chico, Harpo and Grouch Marx, plus the Marx Brothers' signatures.
"If you come to it and buy that you'll be the only one on your street with it, I guarantee it," said Renner, who said those interested in OTB tickets should visit nvhsboosters.com (fundraising events) or his own email, firstname.lastname@example.org.
"With this being my last year I'll take the stress, I'll take all the work and I'll gladly do it," he said. "And hopefully this will be the best one ever."
She's No. 1
Glenbard East senior Kolie Allen, who last fall went 33-0 to win the Class 2A tennis girls singles title, won the girls 18s doubles title at the United States Tennis Association National Winter Championships in Orlando on Jan. 2.
The product of a self-proclaimed "court rat" father, Maurice, out of East St. Louis and a volleyball star mother, Jody, out of Barrington, Allen paired with Ivana Corley, out of Albuquerque, New Mexico, to beat New Jersey sisters Clarissa and Christina Hand.
Unbeaten through the tourney, team Allen-Corley avenged a first-round loss, as the top seed, at the National Indoor Championships in November.
"That obviously didn't feel very good, so we were excited to have the chance to come back and win a national championship at this one," said Allen, a blue-chip recruit who committed to a full scholarship to Ohio State in November. "So we were very determined and we just blew through the whole field, pretty much."
Ranked No. 21 nationally in the Class of 2018 and No. 1 in the Great Lakes region by Tennis Recruiting Network, Allen won her first national championship since the summer of 2015 with former doubles partner Meg Kowalski, headed to Georgia next fall.
Allen, who started playing tennis with the Lombard Park District at age 6, met the Oklahoma-bound Corley about six years ago as opponents. They finally played together at a national tournament last August and came in fourth.
"That was a big deal, so we decided to continue to play together," said Allen, who away from high school trains at the Championship Tennis Academy in Glenview under USTA Hall of Fame coach Mark Bey.
In high school -- where Allen placed fifth in singles as a sophomore and earned a 100-6 record despite taking her junior year off to focus on national and international play -- she's under the tutelage of Bill Burt.
Burt recently was named a regional coach of the year by the Illinois High School Tennis Coaches Association. So was St. Francis' Tom Castronovo and Glenbard West's Tad Keely, while Naperville Central's Dan Brown was named the boys Class AA coach of the year. York's Kara Dollaske was the IHSTCA's girls assistant coach of the year.
One day at Springbrook Golf Course when she was a three-sport star at Naperville North, Jackelyn Diekemper shanked a drive that hit a tree and ricocheted back behind the tee box where she'd just hit.
"I'm emotionally a wreck, embarrassed," she recalled. "Of course, here he comes and cracks a joke -- 'You're going the wrong direction, Jackie!'"
"He" was Ed Rosenthal, known as "Rosie," who died on Dec. 21 at age 68.
Naperville North's girls golf coach from 1979-2006 and a science teacher at the school, a little research unearths a slew of the man's achievements, awards and titles -- he even was mayor of Bolingbrook for a few years in the 1980s.
His smile, his humor, his soft touch and optimism -- even his bow tie -- transcended honors and numbers.
"He loved what he did, he loved the game of golf and it's because of him that I became a teacher and I'm a golf coach. He had a direct impact on my life," Greta Williams said.
A 1993 Naperville North graduate and now an English teacher at the school, she was one of Rosenthal's golfers. She became his assistant coach and when he retired, his successor.
"Everywhere you went everyone knew Rosie, everyone," Williams said. "He was just someone who was so personable, and kids remembered him whether he was their coach or teacher. Even kids who never had him as teacher knew who he was because he was someone so kind and made kids feel good about themselves ... Kids felt they had a safe place in his classroom."
Athletes run through walls for people like that. Rosenthal's Huskies qualified for the state finals 19 times in a 20-year stretch, winning 11 regionals, four sectionals, finishing third four times and second in 1985 behind individual runner-up Margie Muzik.
Eleven years before his last season, Rosenthal was inducted into the Illinois Golf Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
"He was a terrific golf coach, he knew all of the techniques, but most importantly he was a terrific person and mentor to us as student athletes," said Diekemper, now preschool coordinator for Downers Grove School District 58.
She added that Rosenthal drove to Champaign to watch her play softball for the Illini, while Huskies golf grads returned just to attend his practices.
After his retirement what for years had been the Naperville North Girls Invitational was renamed the Rosie Invitational. This fall's 38th annual will include tears and laughter.
"He's been such an inspiration to me and I really feel like a lot of what I do on the golf course with the girls and the way I coach is really Rosie's inspiration," Williams said. "I know it sounds kind of cheesy, but I feel like every time I coach there's a little bit of him out there."