Hall of Famer Faulkner reflects the GBS year that might have been
Over 44 years, even a Hall of Fame coach faces a disappointment or two.
Few were more poignant to Glenbrook South boys tennis coach Larry Faulkner than the suspension of spring sports due to COVID-19.
After winning three straight sectional titles, this Titans squad never had a chance.
"I'm devastated for them. It breaks my heart," Faulkner said.
A 2006 inductee into the Illinois High School Tennis Coaches Association Hall of Fame, Faulkner had seven seniors he'd seen grow in the program since freshmen: captains Chris Tang and Jeremy Sawyer, plus Ethan Celnik, Gabriel Kotlyar, Collin McCarthy, Danny O'Brien and Anthony Ventula.
"You work four years and you finally make the varsity, and you want to play varsity tennis," Faulkner said. "I told them, just remember, you went undefeated, which is the theme of every team in every team sport."
The coach gave them T-shirts usually reserved for the winner of Glenbrook South's Titan Invitational. He said the boys enjoyed that.
"I really, really felt bad for them, but what a great group of kids," Faulkner said. "So nice, great sportsmanship, great representatives of the school and of the sport. You just go, Gosh, you're so blessed to have an opportunity to coach kids like that."
Since 1976, the feeling undoubtedly has been mutual.
Born in Gurnee and a graduate of Warren's Class of 1967, and then a student at Northern Illinois University, Faulkner arrived at Glenbrook South to teach business.
Over the years he coached track, cross country, basketball and, starting in 1976, boys tennis. He also coached Titans girls tennis five years, three as head coach.
In 2015 he was awarded the National Federation of State High School Associations boys tennis coach of the year.
He's one of only 18 national honorees from Illinois, including Glenbrook North girls tennis coach Peg Holecek in 2016.
Perhaps not coincidentally, Faulkner has also coached Glenbrook North freshman girls tennis since 2005, the year he retired from Glenbrook South as a coordinator of instructional technology.
Married since August 1981 to wife Debra, with three daughters and six grandchildren all near his home in Hawthorn Woods, Faulkner has benefitted by athletic directors such as Steve Rockrohr, who've kept him on well beyond his retirement.
Why not? In addition to leading the Titans to all 13 of their sectional titles and three state trophies including a 2003 state runner-up finish, Faulkner invests the program in charity and volunteerism.
"I love the sport. If you like what you're doing, it's not work, and I really like what I'm doing and I really enjoy working with the kids. I look forward to it.
"I play in two USTA (United States Tennis Association) leagues, so it's an opportunity for me to not only play but share what I enjoy doing. Not a lot of people, in their retirement, get to do what they enjoy as much as I've been able to. It's a blessing."
Nothing lasts forever. Armed with another crop of players coming up through the ranks -- Marc Blekhman, Jared Burstein, Daniel Deborin, Jonas Evans, Ben Soyfer, Misha Trosman and junior Philip Cech -- Faulkner believes the 2021 boys season will be his last. He may continue coaching girls.
"I thought this would be a nice group to go out with," said Faulkner, to be joined in retirement by assistant and fellow Hall of Famer Bill Lange.
"I've worked with them very well, developed nice relationships. I think it would be time," Faulkner said.
Given this COVID-sprung spring, however, there's "no guarantees" on what the future holds, he said. After this long, his wife may think the same.
"I don't think she believes it," Faulkner joked. "I think she believes I'm going to keep coaching. I think she wants me to keep coaching so I'm not home."