New Lake Zurich athletic director alert to the challenge after hazing scandal
Coffee fends off the desire to sleep only so long, so Andy Lambert's body finally surrendered.
It was 2 a.m. and Wauconda's young athletic director sat slumped atop the keyboard on his desk inside the high school. He had been writing his doctoral dissertation.
"I had fallen asleep on the keyboard," Lambert said. "My tongue had fallen out of my mouth and it landed on the letter F."
When he woke up, it was a "What the ..." moment.
"I had 31 pages of the letter F," Lambert joked.
A tireless worker -- How many ADs who have a spouse and 2 young kids at home have the passion to pursue a doctoral degree? -- Lambert is ready to work harder than he ever has in his life.
His task? To restore the image at Lake Zurich, which has taken a football helmet to the gut in recent months. Since it was acknowledged by the Lake Zurich school board that football players engaged in inappropriate behavior in the locker room last fall, the high school has seen AD Rolly Vazquez, head football coach David Proffitt and assistant coach/dean of students Chad Beaver all resign.
Thursday night, Lambert, 33, was approved by Lake Zurich Unit District 95 to become LZ's new AD, effective July 1. He will be leaving Wauconda after four years.
A former football player for Buffalo Grove (Class of 2002), where he blocked for future NFL player Tom Zbikowski, Lambert is ready to buckle his chin strap.
"I took the position because it's an opportunity to become a part of, in my opinion, an excellent school system," said Lambert, a Western Illinois graduate who earned his Ph.D. in 2015. "They really embody a lot of the characteristics that I would look for. I'm honored and humbled to have been chosen to lead the athletic department there, and I'm looking forward to that opportunity.
"With regard to all the things that have gone on (with the football team)," he added, "I think it's an opportunity to bring people together and help take that program to the next level and do some wonderful things. I'm excited. You think back to the history of Lake Zurich and their athletic program and the storied success they've had -- competitively, academically."
Lambert was just 29 when he was named Wauconda's AD. He arrived from Dundee-Crown, where he had been an assistant AD, and had a game plan. Which Lake Zurich's community should find interesting.
"When I came to Wauconda four years ago, supervision was one of the biggies that I focused on," Lambert said. "Being a P.E. teacher where I was before, I saw what potentially could happen."
So he worked with Wauconda's administration and coaches on identifying their roles and responsibilities.
"Supervision goes much more beyond than just the locker room," Lambert said. "It's on the bus. It's after practice when kids are getting picked up. The hazing and harassment type of things happen when there's a lack of presence from an adult who's visible or can hear what's going on. We came up with a set standard (at Wauconda). It was a change of culture for some of our staff. All of a sudden they were being asked to do something that they hadn't been asked to do in the past. I think what (the) Lake Zurich (situation) did was really reinforce the idea of why it's important that we do these things, because ultimately we want to provide a culture in which kids feel safe."
It sounds simple, but no plan or policy is foolproof. One day your school has a spotless reputation and is highly regarded for its academics and athletics, and the next day TV trucks and news reporters are hovering outside the building, lawsuits are being filed, and a community wants answers.
Good luck, Andy.
"I did get some funny looks when I said I was going through the (interview) process," Lambert said with a laugh. "But ultimately, the situation that occurred (at Lake Zurich) could happen to any school. I could be sitting in our principal's office talking to him and something could be happening in the locker room, and the next thing you know Wauconda is on the news for it."
Lambert is working collaboratively with Lake Zurich administrators to find the school's next football coach. They hope -- need -- to start the interviewing process soon.
"We want to make sure that we hire the right person," Lambert said. "We want to make sure that we do things right so that we don't put ourselves in a position where we create turmoil or tension or anything like that. We want to get input from all different stakeholders. The student-athlete is one of the big ones that we want to hear from. The assistant coaches that are on staff. Community members. Staff within the building. We want to start to garner their thoughts and characteristics of what they're looking for, so as we go through this process we are hiring a person that embodies what everyone is looking for."
The new AD plans to sit down with parent organizations and community groups. He wants their feedback, and if relationships have been damaged, he wants to repair them.
"What I'd like to tell the parents and the community at large is that the decisions that we're going to make are going to be with the student-athlete's best interest in mind," Lambert said. "We want to provide them with a world-class experience athletically, academically and socially. We're going find people that embody those values."
He leaves Wauconda grateful and honored to have been a part of its community and school system. He and wife Meagan have two sons: Jake, 6, and Luke, 4.
"A little piece of my heart and my family's heart is always going to be in Wauconda," Lambert said. "I am extremely thankful to Dan Coles, the superintendent, and Dan Klett, the principal, for trusting me with leading that athletic department and allowing me to do the things that I was able to do to serve our student-athletes and provide them that word-class experience."
There's work to be done at Lake Zurich. And if it takes sleepless nights to restore the school's image, a caffeinated AD will be up for it.
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