Cary-Grove's Olson, WCC's Schlemmer earn impressive coaching honors
When you coach a sport long enough, like Tammy Olson has at Cary-Grove, you realize the best things are not big wins or even championships. The best things are the relationships you create.
Cary-Grove's varsity softball coach for 26 years, and in the program six years before that, Olson is in the position where former players return and tell her things that can't help but moisten the eyes.
"Those were the best days of my life, and you made it that," they'll say.
That sort of bond outranks most accomplishments, but Olson certainly won't turn down the honor of being inducted into the Illinois Coaches Association Softball Hall of Fame on Feb. 9.
"It's a pretty amazing honor. I've been coaching at Cary-Grove since 1987, so with that there's not too many people who last that long in coaching. That definitely was one of the significant attributes in getting this," said Olson, a physical education teacher and Cary-Grove alumnus, Class of 1982.
"To me it's a Cary-Grove honor more than anything because of how amazing a community it is," she said.
She would admit it's taken a village for Olson to compile her record of 463-340, five Fox Valley Conference championships, three ICA sectional coach of the year honors and three regional titles.
Especially early on, when she and her trusty, 21-year assistant -- her husband, Mark, among a roster of supporters Olson credits -- needed help with their children, Erin and Amber, while they were at the field.
Sometimes they hired students to babysit. Other times it was Tammy's parents, "Grandpa Bill" and "Grandma Shirley."
"Without her support none of this would actually have come together," Tammy said of her mother.
Her daughters seem perfectly adjusted. Statistically, Erin and Amber are the Nos. 1-2 setters for the University of Central Florida women's volleyball team. Tammy was a college athlete too, Northern Illinois University's sportswoman of the year in softball as a senior in 1986.
Then came the easy -- and fast -- transition to a lifelong passion. Olson even became an assistant girls tennis coach two seasons ago.
"I always wanted to be a coach, and that's what I do and I love it. As a coach, I still love the coaching aspect of it," she said. "It's what you do, it's a part of who you are."
That explains why the nuance of girls working together really tickles her fancy. Maybe even more than that 2010 season when Olson led the Trojans to a Class 4A Elite Eight berth at 32-6.
"It's almost like music when they know what's going on and they can play it in hard situations. It just flows and it's amazing to watch," she said.
"When you get teams that you've been working hard on something and they get it and it happens in a game where there's stress in certain situations, I think that just makes it really sweet."
Ending last season with 86 victories as head coach of the Waubonsee Community College women's soccer team, Brad Schlemmer settled into a long off-season.
Long because at the 2018 National Junior College Athletic Association Region IV Division I championship, Moraine Valley beat the Chiefs to keep Schlemmer tied with his predecessor, Leslie Raney, for the program wins record.
The wait, he said, held "a little suspense to it."
Very little. In the first game of the season on Aug. 27, against NCAA Division III Elmhurst College's junior varsity in Elmhurst, Waubonsee won 2-1.
The game-winning goal came with 12 minutes to play from Batavia graduate Shelby Key off an assist from West Aurora's Marlene Sanchez.
A St. Charles resident in his eighth year as Waubonsee's head coach, Schlemmer had kept the achievement a secret till it happened.
"I guess the thing to it was, when was it going to be broken this year," said Schlemmer, now at 89 wins. "I was hoping to get it done, but not thinking about it."
He doesn't seem too caught up in it anyhow.
"It sounds odd," he said, "but I really wanted it out of the way so I could focus on the season with this group of girls. I can always celebrate it after the season."
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