Koeller never regretted his comeback

Updated 11/2/2017 6:15 PM
  • Glenbard North boys soccer coach Gregg Koeller retired after his team was eliminated from this season's playoffs.

    Glenbard North boys soccer coach Gregg Koeller retired after his team was eliminated from this season's playoffs. Photo courtesy of Jim Nonneman/Nonneman Communications

  • Gregg Koeller

    Gregg Koeller

  • The day after junior Jon Aquino helped St. Francis' boys cross country team qualify downstate, as a member of Glen Ellyn Speed Skating, he won three elite events at the 100th Chicago Silver Skates in Hoffman Estates.

    The day after junior Jon Aquino helped St. Francis' boys cross country team qualify downstate, as a member of Glen Ellyn Speed Skating, he won three elite events at the 100th Chicago Silver Skates in Hoffman Estates. Photo courtesy of John Kleba/Glen Ellyn Speed Skating

Gregg Koeller got a stern talking-to.

He'd just resigned as coach for the Glenbard East girls soccer program he started 20 years before. As well, he'd resigned the assistant athletic director position he held at the Lombard school, where he taught sports marketing and consumer marketing.

So when he was offered a position coaching freshman boys soccer at Glenbard North, Koeller waffled.

The Koellers live in Carol Stream and older son C.J. was an incoming freshman at Glenbard North. Another son, Danny, was four years behind. Gregg Koeller preferred cheering for them than yelling at them.

"It was never my intent, even when they were young, to be their coach. I wanted to be their dad," Koeller said.

Well, he heard it from the boss. Not Larry Jenkins, the former Glenbard North athletic director who offered that coaching spot.

The boss.

"I just said, you have coached other people's children for years. Don't you dare not apply for that job," said Koeller's wife, Sue.

"If they're going to be coached in high school I want them to have the best," she said. "You're the best coach I know and now you have the opportunity to give that to your son. Don't you dare not apply for that job."

Koeller's stubborn German facade crumbled.

"It just happened and it was probably the best thing I never saw coming in my life because it was a great experience. I got to work with my two boys," he said.

Since 2007 he worked with many more boys, but this season was Koeller's last of nine as varsity coach, and he'll retire as a Glenbard East business teacher after next spring.

"Being able to coach, you get to know kids on a different level than you do in the classroom. It's like a classroom out of the classroom," he said.

"You build relationships with kids, that's what I always appreciated. You get to know kids on a different level and help ease their transition through high school."

Coaching one's own children can be treacherous for both parties. Others may sense preferential treatment even while the athlete feels driven to perfection to counter that perception. The coach cannot be seen as soft to his blood but also can't be a tyrant.

"I thought it'd be very difficult and it was at times, maybe more for them than me because having a dad as a coach puts a target on your back sometimes. But being able to spend that time with them, we were able to balance the dad and coach relationships," said Koeller, 59.

The family established an agreement: Once in the car, soccer talk ceased.

Koeller had plenty to say. A Maine West graduate, in 1980 he came straight out of his own soccer career and business-finance studies at Lewis University to work for the Chicago Sting. As director of community relations for five years, he made friends with such soccer stars as Wheaton's Charlie Fajkus and "talked his way" into radio broadcasts while the Sting won North American Soccer League championships in 1981 and 1984.

At Glenbard North Koeller got his biggest kick when the Panthers won a 2015 regional title, the program's first in 11 seasons. Danny Koeller was a junior midfielder on that squad, playing with boys he'd known for years. Nine of them play in college, Danny now a North Central College freshman midfielder.

"It was so much fun seeing that group stay together, play together, and achieve the success they did," Gregg Koeller said.

He's unsure what he'll do in retirement beside work crossword puzzles, maybe take his wife on vacation. Provided there's flexibility to watch his son play soccer, vacations could be short-lived.

"I don't want to miss that stuff anymore, but I do want to keep a hand in the game," Koeller said. "If an assistant spot opens up somewhere I'd love to be able to continue to do it."

It's up and it's good

Exceeding goals is great. Just ask Willowbrook kicker Betty-Ann Garrett, who at the start of the football season sought to raise $1,000 to combat pediatric cancer and has since needed to bump that goal upward. We wrote about her on Sept. 20.

"It feels really good. I'm glad that I can help people and I'm glad that I can tell I have support from the community," Garrett said.

Coming off Willowbrook's Class 6A 44-21 playoff victory over Deerfield, in which she converted all six extra points, Garrett has made 53 of 56 PATs and 3 of 5 field goals with a long of 37 yards.

Lightening the bill folds of folks who donated by the point, Garrett has raised $1,408 and has increased her goal to $2,000 on her own campaign at the Kick-It.org website.

"I changed my goal because the season continued so I felt like it'd be a good idea to stretch out the time I had to get donations, and since the season was continuing it made more sense anyway," Garrett said.

Dollars and sense.

"The hope is to be at the $2,000 mark by the state championship," she said.

Ultimate cool-down

On Saturday Jon Aquino was St. Francis' third finisher, 26th overall, at the Class 2A Wheaton Academy boys cross country sectional at Kress Creek Farms Park in West Chicago. The junior helped the Spartans to a third-place team finish, good for advancement to this Saturday's state meet at Detweiller Park in Peoria.

Aquino proved unbowed when the very next day he competed at the 100th annual Chicago Silver Skates and Heartland Racing Series Event No. 3 at Triphahn Ice Arena in Hoffman Estates. Silver Skates is the longest continually running speed skating event in the country.

Competing in the Heartland Racing Series, an elite class of skaters age 12 and up, and representing the 79-year-old host club Glen Ellyn Speed Skating, Aquino swept all three races at 500, 1,000 and 1,500 meters.

In her own events on the Heartland Series, Isabella "Bella" Main, a sophomore field hockey player at Glenbard West, took second place in each of those events. Outside of the Heartland series, in divisions grouped by age, seed time and ability, York freshman Nathaniel Moore won his bracket.

It's a hit

Glenbard South baseball coach Marco Eufrasio was tooling down the highway one night last spring, listening to the Laurence Holmes Show on 670 The Score. The radio conversation had Holmes talking to a buddy who had donated baseball equipment to the Dominican Republic.

That set Eufrasio to thinking about all that stuff former Raiders baseball coach Mike Riley had accumulated over the years.

"He's a bit of a pack rat," Eufrasio said.

(Yep, a bat rack pack rat. Say that five times fast.)

Eufrasio, Willowbrook Class of 2002, sent Riley a text message about getting used baseball gear to Holmes to distribute wherever appropriate. It was a go, and Eufrasio reached Holmes to say they'd have some equipment for him.

"When I walked back to the storage room I was almost crushed by this stuff," the coach said. "And if I was, probably no one would have found me."

Kidding aside, he collected some catcher's gear, enough batting helmets to outfit a team and other odds and ends. Holmes arrived to pick it up in a sport-utility vehicle and eventually delivered it to Morgan Park High School in Chicago.

Yes, this did happen last spring. Eufrasio would like to see it happen every spring, somewhere.

"If people wanted to pay it forward in some way, I'd love for people to continue to do similar things," he said.



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