Retiring Schmidt led Burlington Central programs with care for 33 years

As they go through their careers, high school teachers and coaches learn things right along with their student-athletes.

“I think I learned the same thing as a track coach as I have as a teacher, which is that if kids know that you care about them, they’ll work really hard for you,” said Mike Schmidt, a St. Charles resident who has worked at his alma mater, Central High School in Burlington, since 1991.

Central’s social studies department chair and now teaching AP psychology, Schmidt took over the Rockets boys track program in 1995-96 and in 2021 was inducted into the Illinois Track and Cross Country Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

He also coached varsity girls and boys basketball a combined seven seasons in the late 1990s, early 2000s, winning teams each season.

“What I’ve tried to demonstrate on the track and the classroom and the basketball court, is demonstrate to kids that you really care for them, and they’ll run through a wall for you. And that has not changed for 33 years,” he said.

Schmidt will soon make a change, though, retiring after this school year.

He’s got one more Fox Valley Conference Championship to compete in Thursday at Huntley, and provided Central athletes such as Rocco Boss, Logan Karottu and Tristan Sanceda advance out of the May 15 Class 3A Huntley sectional — Central is among 3A’s smallest schools — one final trip to the Boys Track & Field State Finals.

“If we were still in 2A we have a team this year that could score a lot of points, especially in relays, but in 3A we just want to score some points, to be honest,” Schmidt said.

Retiring Central High teacher and coach Mike Schmidt in 2017 was named high school teacher of the year by the Kane County Regional Office of Education. Courtesy of Kane County Regional Office of Education

Schmidt and the Rockets have thrived in Charleston. They were runners-up in Class A in 2001 and in Class 2A in 2015, and third in Class 2A in 2014. In 2001, Harrisburg nipped Central 52-51 for the title.

Seventy-two of his athletes have earned all-state honors in individual events or relays. His teams have won nine sectional titles and 18 conference championships.

Schmidt saw his son, Zachary, or “Zac,” now a sophomore runner at Wisconsin-Milwaukee, run on three all-state relays and place second in the 400-meter dash.

His daughter Kathryn, or “Kat,” finished her basketball career at Lewis University and graduates May 11. She will play next season as a Grand Valley State graduate student.

A track athlete and basketball player at Central, Class of 1987, Mike Schmidt was a sprinter whose personal best in his main event, the 400, was 52.02 seconds on Burlington’s former cinder track.

Four years later he was back as a young teacher and coach. Camaraderie with athletes and fellow coaches kept him involved as the years rolled along.

“You don’t often see people invest a lifetime in coaching anymore,” he said. “Five, 10 years, and family becomes important. I get that. But the relationships you make over time make it something you want to keep coming back to.”

Schmidt practices mental training with his own children and Central athletes, and he will seek to expand that practice. He’ll work toward a certification in sports psychology, hoping to open a business in the field in about a year.

“I’m still going to do stuff, it’s just going to be on my terms,” Schmidt said.

Big-league debut

A 2019 graduate of Aurora University, Chris Roycroft became the first Spartan to play in Major League Baseball when he made his pitching debut Tuesday for the St. Louis Cardinals.

Entering the game in the ninth inning of a 7-5 loss to the New York Mets in St. Louis, the 6-foot-8 right-hander struck out Francisco Lindor and Harrison Bader and allowed a home run to slugger Pete Alonzo in 1 inning of work.

A 2015 Willowbrook graduate, Roycroft joins former Warriors such as Dan Schatzeder and Jody Gerut to play in the big leagues.

Eagles fly the flag

On April 25, Lisle’s Benedictine University announced it would begin a women’s flag football program in 2024-25. It’s a spring sport in college.

The Eagles will be coached by Caroline Schwartz, who last fall led Lane Tech to Illinois’ second girls state championship. Willowbrook won the first, in 2022. The 2023 season was girls flag football’s third as an emerging sport in Illinois, with teams increasing exponentially each year.

After more than 100 teams participated last season, the Illinois High School Association adopted girls flag football starting this August. Women’s and men’s flag football will debut in the Olympics at the 2028 Los Angeles Games.

Benedictine athletic director Paul Nelson called it the perfect time to offer the sport.

Assistant athletic director Tim Calderwood said Benedictine has been working with the Chicago Bears, one of the National Football League’s leaders in supporting girls flag football.

An NCAA Division III program, Benedictine will be the second Northern Collegiate Athletics Conference school to offer it. Rockford University on Feb. 14 announced it would.

Benedictine will play up to eight official games in 2025 against Division III, National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) or National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) programs.

Rockford assistant athletic director Brian Vander Acker said it initially may require a baseball- or softball-style spring trip to get a bunch of games in, because at this point local programs are limited.

That is destined to change. Benedictine and Rockford are joining a crowd whose members may have increased by the time you’re done reading this.

Four members of the Division III Atlantic East Conference on April 13 held the first NCAA women’s flag championships. Marymount (Va.) beat Immaculata (Pa.) 52-0 for the title.

Division I Alabama State will start it in 2024-25, and on May 10 in Atlanta an NAIA women’s flag champion will be crowned from among 22 programs including nine apiece from the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference and The Sun Conference.

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