Cool as ice in a new arena
Addressing classes of elementary and middle school students, Jeffrey Swider-Peltz Jr. gets a small taste of the pressures schoolteachers face.
"It's real stressful. Every time I go out there I feel like I'm racing," he said.
Then again, teachers would be lost in his element, that of world-caliber speedskating.
Swider-Peltz and his sister, Nancy Swider-Peltz Jr., ninth in the 3,000 meters and fourth in team pursuit at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, have been touring their hometown and elsewhere. The Wheaton North graduates were drumming up student interest in speedskating but mainly in the children's futures.
"We hope that they're motivated to dream big and follow those dreams because they're seeing two kids from their own neighborhood, who they can see and they can touch, make Olympic Trials and make Olympics," said Jeffrey, eighth in mass start at the 2015 World Single Distance Championships and a member of U.S. Speedskating's Long Track World Cup Team the past two years.
"You might think it's inaccessible and, sure, some people start off with more or less of an opportunity, but to see someone you know has made it this far sometimes opens your mind to the possibility that if they have this passion then I can do it, too."
The brother-sister duo -- accompanied by their mother, four-time Olympian and record-setter Nancy Swider-Peltz, who late in the presentation unfurls an Olympic flag given to her at Sarajevo in 1984 -- were scheduled to appear at Franklin Middle School on Thursday, where they attended.
In addition to presentations in Madison, Wisconsin, and Johnsburg and a video for Wheaton Academy students on Feb. 27, by invitation they swept throughout elementary and middle schools (middle schools are "a tougher crowd," Jeffrey said) speaking, doing skating activities with the students in the gym, taking questions and signing anything the children offer. Hats are big. So are arms.
Nancy Jr., a little more experienced at these things, at first had to convince her brother to do this. Disappointed by not going to the Pyeongchang Olympics for team pursuit, he knew he'd given his best at the Olympic Trials and chose to join his sister in speaking to the students about life lessons and perseverance.
Jeffrey being 28 and Nancy Jr. a few years older, both may be going through a transitional phase given the uncertainty of the sport, though they credit the people of Wheaton for providing great support.
Jeffrey plans to return to Wheaton College next fall to complete his degree in studio art and minor in Bible and theology. Nancy already is growing a small business called @theNSPJbrand, creating handmade leather and wooden goods.
If their world-class skating careers are indeed over, Wheaton students enjoyed a victory lap.
"Symbolically passing off the torch, if I don't skate again, to my community," said Jeffrey Swider-Peltz Jr. "It's been a great few weeks. Stressful, but great."
Basketball coaches might learn something from a Mount Rushmore of coaches at the Nike Champions Basketball Clinics held at College of DuPage on April 6-8.
After retired Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan and North Carolina's Roy Williams headline sessions on the court Friday, Saturday's marathon clinic includes sessions by the Minnesota Lynx's Cheryl Reeves, West Virginia's Bob Huggins, Augustana's Grey Giovanine, St. Anthony (New Jersey) High School's Bob Hurley, Gonzaga's Mark Few and Bobby Knight, retired from Indiana and Texas Tech.
South Suburban College's John Pigatti and Richmond's Chris Mooney wrap it up on Sunday.
Former Chicagoan Al Janka, now in Solon, Ohio, has been assembling coaching clinics for more than 45 years, including Michael Jordan kids' camps at Elmhurst College, camps for Scottie Pippen and B.J. Armstrong, and for Vince Carter in Toronto.
This man knows from basketball coaches. From 1959-63 he played at that former cradle of coaches, Weber High School, and returned there as an assistant from 1970-72. Janka was a graduate assistant to Al McGuire at Marquette, assisted Dick Versace at Gordon Tech, went to the University of Detroit the year after Dick Vitale left. He assisted at Oberlin and Fairfield, served as head coach at John Carroll College and professionally in Italy before heading to Nike to start this career.
The clinic at College of DuPage is a little pricey -- $155 per coach with preregistration, $185 on-site -- but this lineup sounds worth it. Register at BasketballCoach.com and for a brochure call (503) 671-3041.
Photo courtesy of Marquette Manor Baptist Academy
Best, two out of three
Our high school sports coverage generally doesn't include institutions such as Marquette Manor Baptist Academy in Downers Grove because they're not affiliated with the Illinois High School Association.
Regardless, the Minutemen do a bang-up job within their own realm, the Illinois Association of Christian Schools. The school has won 13 IACS titles in boys soccer, six in girls volleyball and one in boys basketball.
In fact on Feb. 24 Marquette Manor's girls basketball team won its second IACS Championship in three seasons. The Minutemen (20-1) beat Rockford's North Love Christian School 37-18 behind senior forward Stephanie Woods' 19 points and 8 rebounds, and 5 assists from Joanna Schlagel of Downers Grove. The title game was held at Berean Baptist School in Rockford.
"The defensive side was probably the strength, team defense," said athletic director Matt Scalzitti, a 1998 graduate of Marquette Manor, which for years hosted the annual "Centurion Classic," a boys basketball all-star game between teams of suburban and Chicago players.
Woods, Schlagel, senior guard Ashley Henkle of Downers Grove and senior forward Hannah Schuster of Willowbrook also played on the 2015-16 Marquette Manor team that went 19-3 and won the IACS title over Romeoville Christian.
The girls program wasn't always a dynasty, or even a program. It was renewed seven years ago, Scalzitti said, and in the first two seasons the varsity team won two games. In the five years since Schlagel's older brother, Paul, has coached the team Marquette Manor has gone 72-26.
The reasons are the same as in the IHSA.
"It's personnel, it's good coaching," Scalzitti said.
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