The time was right for a College of DuPage Athletic Hall of Fame
Well, it's about time.
On March 7 the College of DuPage announced its first Athletic Hall of Fame class, 52 years after its founding and 46 years after its first permanent building in Glen Ellyn.
Four athletes, a coach and former college President Harold D. McAninch will be honored June 1 at the Doubletree Hotel in Lisle. Future ceremonies will be held each fall.
"With all the great teams and great athletes that we've had, I mean for 50 years, it certainly would have warranted it," said inductee Don Klaas, who from 1978-2013 led the Chaparrals' men's basketball team to a 743-382 record with a national title in 2002.
Former COD track coach Jane Vatchev had this idea a while back. According to Mark Reinhiller, recently hired as the community college's first sports information director, the hall gained traction after athletic director Greg McVey arrived last July.
Klass will be joined by his daughter, Ali Ittersagen, a two-time National Junior College Athletic Association All-American guard and tournament MVP on College of DuPage's 2000 women's national title team. A tennis player, too, she finished second nationally in doubles in 1998 and helped land a second-place team finish in 1999. She went on to play basketball at Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
"I think that is the most special thing about this whole honor, is just being honored with him. He's been such a role model in my life and just such an awesome example of a dad and a coach and a person," said Ittersagen, also in Wheaton Warrenville South's Athletic Hall of Fame.
Along with McAninch, who among other things spearheaded COD's Physical Education and Recreation Center, this inaugural class also includes:
•Tom Pukstys, a two-time Olympic javelin thrower who still holds the national junior college record;
•Paul Spicer, an All-American defensive end who helped COD's football team to 24 straight wins and played 11 seasons in the NFL;
•Nikkilette Wright, a nine-time track All-American who helped the Chaparrals win women's national titles in 2001 and 2002.
At COD these athletes honed their skills on and off the field of play.
"I feel like it was a steppingstone for me to fulfill that dream of becoming a Division I basketball player," said Ali Ittersagen, married to former Wheaton North star Brian Ittersagen.
"Then, I feel like it allowed me to experience a lot of success as a tennis player and a basketball player and as a person in those two years. It was a great place for me, a great place to start."
Her father, who ran COD's fitness lab and taught physical education, still exercises there and attends most home basketball games when not coaching some of his 11 grandchildren.
Klaas coached 11 All-Americans and retired with the most victories in NJCAA Division III history, 14 North Central Community College Conference titles, induction into three other halls of fame and the COD court named after him.
"To teach and coach at a school for 35 years, I never dreamed about anything like that," he said. "Then, as the years went by, I just felt so fortunate and as I got smarter and older I felt very privileged to have all the great athletes and teams that I had. It was a wonderful experience for me at a great school."
He'll revisit it with his daughter.
"It's kind of cool that a father and a daughter are part of the inaugural experience," Klaas said. "It'll be fun for the both of us."
Young steel on ice
Liam Dullum, a center with the Glen Ellyn-based Admirals' 10-under A1-level hockey team, drew recognition on the United Center ice before the Blackhawks' 3-2 overtime loss Monday to the Vancouver Canucks.
A fourth-grade student at Whittier Elementary School in Wheaton, Dullum was saluted as a Blackhawks BMOHarris Bank player of the month. He's a good player but didn't earn the honor solely for his hockey skills.
Community commitment is among the criteria for the BMOHarris award. For several years Dullum has asked his buddies to spare the birthday presents and instead donate to the Ross K. MacNeill Foundation, named for another young Wheaton player who died of pediatric brain cancer.
All the marbles
The 32nd Illinois State High School Hockey Championships come to the United Center on Friday. After the girls final between Loyola Gold and New Trier Green and the Red Division game between those same two schools, the one we're interested in is the 9:15 p.m. boys Combined final, Glenbard vs. Waubonsie-Metea.
"We're very happy to be playing in this game, playing at the United Center. But in my experience it's a little more memorable if you win it," said Jason Hawkins, coach of the Glenbard squad open to players from each District 87 school.
Glenbard (33-15-1) won the Combined title in 2012 and again in 2015, with runner-up finishes in 2014, 2016 and 2017. Waubonsie-Metea (42-10) beat Glenbard in 2014, was runner-up last season and went 3-1 against Glenbard this season while winning the Illinois West division.
Hawkins and Warriors coach Jeremy Dombro both called it a respectful rivalry.
"They're really evenly matched teams," said Dombro, whose Warriors eliminated Glenbard in the 2018 semifinals and won the Illinois West division this season. "All our games have been extremely close, 1- or 2-goal games, so we're expecting a pretty gritty affair."
The Warriors will be the home team, allowing Dombro to counter the players Hawkins sends onto the ice.
Dombro will use that edge to use a checking line against Glenbard's line of Brett Quinn, Sam Ruffolo and captain Zach Lupori. Led by Lupori's 40 goals and 67 points, each member of that trio has at least 29 goals and 59 points.
"If we can shut that down I like our chances," Dombro said.
Waubonsie-Metea counters with junior forward Zach Pearce, whose 36 goals led the Illinois West by 10 goals. Goalie Justin Howard, 6-foot-3, has a 1.90 goals-against average and about a .930 save percentage.
Losing in the 2018 Combined final to Buffalo Grove-Hersey-Wheeling, many Waubonsie-Metea players skated on United Center ice. Only Lupori has been in this limelight. About 10,000 people are expected to attend the daylong affair.
"The toughest part of the game is overcoming the environment you're in," Hawkins said. "So hopefully the kids can get their butterflies out in warmups and are ready to go."