No swang song for these retiring spring coaches
After 33 years coaching baseball at Wauconda including the last 18 as varsity coach, Bill Sliker is rounding third and heading for home one last time.
Set to retire this year, Sliker's final season after over three decades coaching isn't going to end anything like he expected. No cake, no balloons, no hugs and high-fives after that season-ending loss.
"This is not the way I thought the last year was going to go, but who I really feel bad for are the players, and the seniors, who have been working hard to make this a great season," Sliker said.
Sliker also coached and taught two years in Wisconsin before coming to Wauconda.
Whatever disappointment he feels about how his coaching career is concluding pales in comparison to what the COVID-19 pandemic has caused to others.
Emotions and memories
"It's hard to explain my emotions about missing out on this last season when some people are struggling with health and financial issues," Sliker said. "What I do have is the memories of past seasons with players and coaches who have made my baseball career at Wauconda so enjoyable."
Sliker said he will miss most the friendships he made with coaches and players, and preparing for and playing games.
"Hopefully this is just a little adversity we all have to overcome, and we will all come out stronger," Sliker said. "It does feel a little different this spring not coaching, because it is something I have done for a few years. But like I said, I still have lots of great memories, with this season even being one of them."
Sliker isn't the only coach of a spring sport retiring this year, missing out on a final chance to coach their team.
Barrington boys gymnastics coach Rob DeFano was set for his final year in a long coaching career that also includes swimming. DeFano started with five years coaching swimming and gymnastics at Evanston.
For the past 27 years he's been at Barrington, a swimming assistant coach with the girls for 24 years and boys for eight. He's been Barrington's head boys gymnastics coach since 1998.
"It's really somber, no proms, no graduations, no meets, no camaraderie, no daily interaction with the team," DeFano said. "I will miss the students and athletes and interacting with them the most. They teach me so much daily and keep me on my toes and it's truly rewarding watching how much they grow in our sport as they become confident with new tricks."
More coaches missing out
Other retiring spring coaches include a pair at Glenbard South -- Ronn Claussen (track and field) and Mark Conrad (tennis)-- Neuqua Valley's Trudy Bennorth (tennis), Leyden's Rob Hammen (baseball) and Glenbard North's David Stanfield (soccer). Chris Bailey is stepping down as Antioch's track and field coach but will continue as a distance coach.
Conrad, a German and English teacher, has coached for 28 of his 30 years at Glenbard South. Those sports have included football, hockey and the last 18 tennis, including 15 as the head coach.
"It's extremely difficult ending my career by teaching from my living room," Conrad said. "Only about 50 percent of my students are engaged on a daily basis. I certainly miss my classroom and students. It hurts just as much to know our tennis season is canceled. I also feel heartache for my seniors, all of whom are four-year players on the team. They end their high school careers at home instead of in the classroom and on the court. That, for me, is the deepest void that will never be filled."
Conrad's colleague at Glenbard South, Claussen, has coached football, wrestling and track in his 30 years with the Raiders, taking over as head track coach in 2013.
"Ronn's attention to detail is unmatched," Raiders AD Tim Carlson said. "It was great that last season we were able to capture a sectional championship in what now was his last season as head coach."
Stanfield, the Panthers' girls coach since 2006 who also has worked with the boys program since 2005, said he will miss rituals like senior night, awards night, "the little jokes and stuff we did after a practice like going to Oberweiss."
"In particular, my heart goes out to our seniors, most of whom I have had the privilege to coach for their four years at Glenbard North," Stanfield said. "It is disappointing not to have the opportunity to end my career with coaching the varsity girls team this season, although I am grateful that I got to coach the boys this past fall."
Stanfield said he's thankful for the coaches and trainers he's worked with at Glenbard North, the school's athletic director Matt Bowser, and how much he's enjoyed competing against coaches like Tim McEvilly at Wheaton North, Guy Callipari at Wheaton Warrenville South and Sean Crosby at Lake Park.
"I consider myself to be really fortunate to have also enjoyed strong relationships with the parents of my players; they have always been nothing but supportive and trusting in what we have tried to achieve with the program," Stanfield said. "To the girls I would have coached this spring, I would like to say how sorry I am that the season has ended in this way."