Diab forging his own legacy

 
 
Updated 4/25/2018 9:32 PM
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  • Alex Diab, a Glenbard West graduate, last weekend won an NCAA championship for Illinois in men's gymnastics.

    Alex Diab, a Glenbard West graduate, last weekend won an NCAA championship for Illinois in men's gymnastics. Monica Wilner/Illinois Athletics

Glenbard West graduate Alex Diab saw his father's success not as pressure but as motivation and guidance.

Son of a two-time NCAA still rings champion, the University of Illinois junior won that event at the NCAA Men's Gymnastics Championships Saturday at the UIC Pavilion in Chicago.

Also an All-America on floor exercise with a seventh-place finish, Diab's 14.500 score on rings gave the third-place Illini their 58th national champion and third on rings. Freshman brother Max competed on vault.

Alex Diab, a four-time All-America and three-time Big Ten rings winner majoring in kinesiology, cited his father, Mark, a "legendary ring man" at Iowa State. His mother, Jennifer, was a gymnast at Wisconsin.

"I always looked up to that, and that was something I wanted to do," Alex Diab said of his father's mastery. "He's been my coach since I was real young and all the way through high school. Even to this day he helps me out with certain things and different things I should try. He had a big impact on my performance this weekend."

Disappointed by a seventh-place finish in 2017, Diab worked on strength and tweaked his routine, particularly the dismount.

"I had a good one in the meet and I think that's what won it for me," he said.

As a Glenbard West freshman Diab won the state all-around title -- as did his sister this season, Iowa State commit Maddie -- in his only season competing for the Hilltoppers. He dug into his father's gymnastics studio, Premier Gymnastics Academy in Downers Grove, and became the 2014 Junior Olympic Nationals rings champion.

On May 1 Diab will throw out the opening pitch for the Illini softball game; he's been nominated for Illinois' athlete of the year.

"Coming back to campus was really cool," he said. "A ton of people congratulated me and people I didn't even know were recognizing me."

In the NCAA Women's Gymnastics Championships in St. Louis, Wheaton Warrenville South graduate Amanda Wellick helped Arkansas to a 10th-place finish, the Razorbacks' first top-10 finish since 2013. Michaela Burton of Downers Grove South aided the effort.

Returning for a fifth year after a torn Achilles tendon early in the 2017 season, Wellick competed on bars and all-around and earned second-team All-America honors in both. She was second-team All-America in all-around in 2016.

"Quite honestly, because it was my last meet of my career I wanted to finish on a strong note, and everything just kind of felt so on-point. I stuck the landing from my bars dismount and that was a great finish to it," said Wellick, who hopes to go into college coaching.

"I'm just really happy and excited to go from being a local kid in Wheaton to being an All-American in nationals at the NCAA level. It's really an honor to be able to represent."

Mr. 400

Coming out of Central Michigan University, Neuqua Valley girls soccer coach Joe Moreau had no luck finding teaching jobs in his native state. Lucky us.

In 1986 the young business teacher found his way to Willowbrook High School. His first coaching job was as volunteer boys soccer coach. His second was as a freshman football coach though he'd never played the sport.

"I worked with the kickers," Moreau said.

Neuqua Valley girls soccer coach Joe Moreau, who won his 400th game last week, is congratulated by players after winning No. 300 in 2011.
  Neuqua Valley girls soccer coach Joe Moreau, who won his 400th game last week, is congratulated by players after winning No. 300 in 2011. - Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

He still does. Different ball, great results.

Neuqua's win over Benet April 19 at the Naperville Invitational gave Moreau the 400th win of his 21-year career as a head coach, 13 at Neuqua Valley.

Entering Thursday with 401 victories after a 1-0 win over Conant on April 20, Moreau ranks fifth all-time among Illinois girls prep soccer coaches, following retired Downers Grove South coach Barry Jacobson with 489 in the No. 3 slot and Naperville Central's Ed Watson at No. 4 with 413.

Moreau's secret?

"Having great players and terrific assistant coaches along the way. Sue Soderberg has been my assistant coach every year except this year," said Moreau, noting Soderberg now works in investments.

A 2013 inductee into the Illinois High School Soccer Coaches Association Hall of Fame, Moreau was part of St. Charles High School's stellar run. An assistant on three state championship teams, Moreau took over in 1995 and the Saints won five straight titles from 1996-2000, unbeaten in 1997 and 1998.

During the 1996 title game Moreau's wife, Angela, was pregnant with their daughter. In 2015 Sophia Moreau ended her fourth varsity season in Neuqua Valley's Class 3A championship loss, 2-0 to New Trier.

"She was a spectator for many of the wins along the way," Joe said.

Incidentally ...

To confirm Moreau's standing among victories leaders we called another IHSSCA hall of famer, retired Lake Park coach Norm Hillner, who serves as the organization's historian. He's also director of operations for Northwestern University men's soccer.

Ed Watson, head coach for Naperville Central girls soccer, will be inducted into the coaches' association hall of fame in June.
  Ed Watson, head coach for Naperville Central girls soccer, will be inducted into the coaches' association hall of fame in June. - Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

Sounding nine-cups-of-coffee energized as he did when coaching the Lancers, Hillner relayed the happy news that Naperville Central's Watson will be the IHSSCA's 60th inductee into its hall of fame.

Watson took over the Redhawks program in 1993 and thus far has led it to eight regional titles with title-game appearances in 1994 and 1995, assistant Barry Baldwin alongside him for all but one season. Watson will be inducted at the IHSSCA's girls Spring Honors Banquet on June 7 at the Diplomat West Banquet Hall in Elmhurst.

Jerry Fajkus' legacy

For 15 years College of DuPage has hosted a 7-on-7 soccer tournament. Last Saturday marked the first honoring a person who helped launch the sport in the western suburbs.

Jerry Fajkus, who started the Wheaton Park District soccer program in 1973, is honored in 2015 for his legacy of soccer and sportsmanship during a ceremony at the Wheaton Park District Central Athletic Center. A 7-on-7 tournament named in his honor raised money last weekend to fund scholarships for College of DuPage students.
  Jerry Fajkus, who started the Wheaton Park District soccer program in 1973, is honored in 2015 for his legacy of soccer and sportsmanship during a ceremony at the Wheaton Park District Central Athletic Center. A 7-on-7 tournament named in his honor raised money last weekend to fund scholarships for College of DuPage students. - Daniel White | Staff Photographer

The Truman College men and Elmhurst women won their divisions in the inaugural Jerry J. Fajkus Memorial 7 v 7 Tournament in Glen Ellyn, named for the man who died at age 93 on Nov. 14, 2017.

"This is a way to recognize him and kind of keep his legacy alive," said his son, William -- "Willy" to all who know him -- eight-year COD women's head soccer coach and a men's assistant. Willy's older brother, Charlie, helped Indiana to two NCAA title-game appearances and the Chicago Sting to the 1981 North American Soccer League Soccer Bowl championship, among other achievements.

"He was a pioneer for soccer in this area," Willy said of his father. "And soccer in this area is better off because of what he's done."

In 1968 Jerry Fajkus (pronounced "fye-kus") started a youth league in Cicero and Berwyn. Five years later he founded the Wheaton Park District's programs. He went on to start programs in Naperville and the Tri-Cities of Batavia, Geneva and St. Charles.

All this and more, like his fleeing Communist Czechoslovakia in 1948, can be found in a tribute at northernillinoissoccerleague.com.

All along, money from the College of DuPage Tournament has gone to fund college foundation scholarships for COD soccer players. Two scholarships will be awarded this fall.

This mirrors Jerry Fajkus' commitment to youth soccer. Willy recalled his father in 1973 asking the Wheaton Park District if he could start an indoor league. To use the facility cost $300. Fifty-six children signed up at $5 each. Fajkus wrote a $20 check to clear the tab.

"He never took a penny from any of these places," Willy said. "He didn't feel it was appropriate. It was his love."

doberhelman@dailyherald.com

Follow Dave on Twitter @doberhelman1

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