Current events, and Schauble, bode well for Palatine

Updated 12/3/2014 1:49 PM
  • John Schauble is beginning his second cycle as Palatine's boys swimming and diving head coach.

    John Schauble is beginning his second cycle as Palatine's boys swimming and diving head coach. Photo by Paul Reeff

I've been thinking a lot lately about the cyclical nature of sports in general, and swimming specifically.

I am happily blaming John Schauble for this.

Just reading his name again, as I write this, sets off a whole suite of delightfully tangled associations and memories. I will now try to make sense of them.

It might get a little messy, so try to be patient.

Most recently, Schauble's name came to the fore via an announcement that he'd been appointed head coach of Palatine's boys swimming and diving team. The news resonated in a very personal way because I have a freshman son on the team and, like any parent, I hope for the best for my kid.

Beyond that, though, and irrespective of any selfish interest, Schauble is one of those legendary figures in the sport -- or, rather, sports.

He brings as varied and complete a coaching history as you could hope to assemble. I'm not sure exactly what a USTFCCCA Masters Endorsement Endurance Events is, but it's among the many professional accolades on his resume, and it certainly looks impressive.

Most recently, Schauble has been stationed at Stevenson High School. The one constant for him there, between 1990 and 2014, has been his role as Aquatics Director/ PE teacher. He also had a stint from 1990 to 1996 in which he was both boys and girls swimming head coach, and he's managed to be an an assistant boys and girls track and boys cross country coach, with an emphasis on guiding the distance runners.

Back to swimming -- Schauble founded the Stevenson-based Patriot Aquatic Club in 1991, a natural next step after head coaching the Palatine Park District program from 1983 to 1990 as it churned out elite athletes. Even before that he was an important figure on the Illinois swimming scene, helping Lake Forest Swim Club to prominence in the late 1970s.

At the high school level, he was Palatine's head coach in boys swimming for a couple of years around 1990, and assisted both Ed Richardson's dominant girls program at Palatine and Paul Reeff's standout boys program at Fremd.

Prior to all that, Schauble had assisted elite national-level coaches Jack Nelson (Fort Lauderdale Swim Club) and Don Gambril (University of Alabama).

As a fan of swimming who can't help but be impressed by all those credentials, I recently visited a Palatine practice and re-introduced myself to coach Schauble and offered, as a parent, my assistance to him and the team.

One thing I didn't realize was that although Schauble has stayed active as a coach with track and cross country teams, he hadn't been a swimming head coach since 1998. With 50-some swimmers out for Palatine's team, the totality of the situation was a little bit daunting. He used the word "overwhelmed" to describe the sensation -- then cracked a smile as if to suggest it was also exactly what he expected.

We started talking more freely, and those connections started to fire up.

Some basic name-checking revealed a direct link between us. Early in Schauble's career, he was coaching in Mishawaka, Ind. The name of the club was familiar to me because my freshman-year roommate at the University of Wisconsin, a great butterfly named Ralph Pieniaszkiewicz, had trained there.

Schauble remembered Ralph vividly, probably not for the best of reasons. It seems Ralph was goofing off in practice, which did not please coach Schauble, who attempted to correct the behavior by winging a kickboard at Ralph -- who saw it coming, and ducked. The kickboard hit an 8-year-old girl in the head.

I got the sense from talking to both my roommate 30 years ago and a remorseful Schauble on Monday that various behaviors were indeed corrected as a result of the incident.

Among the many swimming people Schauble and I currently have in common is Reeff. A Hall of Fame coach for his high school state championship boys teams at Fremd, the now-retired Reeff has been supplying photos to the Daily Herald in recent years, simply out his love for the sport and in the interest of helping bring attention to it. What I didn't know until just this week is that Reeff and Schauble have been best buds for roughly as long as I've been alive. It turns out Reeff will be assisting Schauble in an informal way this year, lending expertise wherever he can.

These kinds of moments are dizzying to me -- the realization that, especially in a sport like swimming, nearly everybody is connected in one way or another. And the longer you stick around, the deeper the threads go.

For instance, and here's where it really starts to get messy, the new boys swimming head coach at Hoffman Estates this winter is Jenny Toler. An incredible high school athlete at Elk Grove and later at Nebraska, her father is Dave, head coach of Elk Grove's girls swim team. I learned several years ago that Dave Toler had been the college roommate of my own high school coach, Dave Bart, at Eastern Illinois. And Dave Bart's younger brother is Jim Bart, Barrington's girls coach, who I've gotten to know well while covering his excellent teams the last half-dozen or so years.

See? Messy -- but in a good way.

The Toler/Gabriel nexus has another twist to it. Before Elk Grove High School's beautiful new pool existed, the Grens used a modest park district facility for their training. I'd see Dave Toler there occasionally, in his capacity as aquatics director, as I showed up for some lap swimming before work.

And I was in that very pool on a Friday afternoon when they hauled me out of the water to inform me that my wife had gone into labor some 6½ weeks early, and that my immediate attention to the situation was required. As I recall, they bent the rules and let me use the lobby phone to call the hospital with a towel wrapped around my waist.

(It all turned out fine, and almost 15 years later the proof is on deck at Palatine High School. The only part I'd change, if somehow I could, would be actually having my wife attend the baby shower instead of being stuck in a recovery room.)

In any case, it has occurred to me that I'm about to make a whole new set of set connections through Schauble's current position as Palatine's coach and my son's participation with the team. And that these connections may pose certain ethical challenges, such as an acceptable level of journalistic objectivity.

With that in mind, I'll only be watching Palatine's swim team as a parent from this point forward. I'll stay active in our organization's aquatics reporting, but only when it doesn't directly involve Palatine.

I was still reeling a bit on the pool deck at Palatine, considering all this while trying to connect the distant past with the here and now. So I just stepped back for a few moments and observed Schauble coaching.

He brings a professorial demeanor to the task, striking a delicate balance between instruction and encouragement. As the practice was ending, every swimmer got a square look in the eye, a handshake and verbal recognition of a job well done. For a coach who knows the science of sports inside and out, it's clear Schauble still puts a premium on the human dimension.

The swimming currents occasionally converge to form unique circumstances and opportunities.

Welcome back to Palatine, and to swimming, coach Schauble.

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