How Glenbard West's Harrington found a role model in alum Bischoff
Their relationship began during the 2016 boys volleyball season, but it was somewhat one-sided and distant back then.
Paul Bischoff was a Glenbard West co-captain, a Stanford recruit on his way to leading the Hilltoppers to the state championship. Ben Harrington was an eighth-grader looking up to the Hilltoppers to show him what was possible in volleyball. He saw a lot to admire in Bischoff.
They connected three years later, when Harrington, having become a highly recruited prospect himself, made an unofficial visit to a Stanford junior day. That's when Bischoff began to recognize some of himself in Harrington.
They were prodded to reconnect this spring by Hilltoppers coach Christine Giunta-Mayer, who saw just how much the two players, four years apart in age, had in common and could benefit from beginning a conversation. Give Giunta-Mayer a few minutes and she'll happily tell you just how special both are, on the volleyball court but mostly as extremely intelligent, high-character individuals.
"I'm so lucky to have them in my life," she says.
All along, Bischoff has been a role model for Harrington. But over four years the ways in which Bischoff has been a role model have changed.
Now, with both elite athletes home during the COVID-19 pandemic, they have recognized how much they have in common, not just as volleyball players or students, but as people.
"That's when I really started talking to him about what to expect at an intense institution like this," Bischoff says. "How to manage your life. How to manage school. How to manage volleyball. All of these things that part of me wishes I knew earlier and they're just great tips to give to a younger guy going into college."
They talk a couple of times a month, "pretty much anytime I need advice for anything that pertains to my future," says Harrington, who also picked an elite academic university, Princeton.
Harrington goes to Bischoff for advice on volleyball, what classes to take, what professors expect, what potential employers expect.
"He always has the right answer for it," Harrington said.
Bischoff has emphasized the need for Harrington to think outside what Bischoff calls the "two-dimensional lifestyle" of classes and volleyball. He reminds Harrington that college offers so much more, such as clubs, relationships with professors and other extracurricular activities.
"One thing I was telling Ben is that it is hard to realize that when you're a student-athlete because you are so enveloped in this two-lane highway," Bischoff said. "I told him that a month ago, and now I'm coming to the strong realization after running through the whole student-athlete lifestyle at Stanford and just being keen on what's around you because it's great and there's a lot of good things to get into."
Bischoff is excited to head back to Stanford this fall to finish his degree in aeronautical engineering, not as a student-athlete but as a student.
"As much as I love being a student-athlete, I'm going to miss that lifestyle, but I'm looking forward to a new definition of Stanford for me," Bischoff said.
Bischoff also is excited for Harrington to head to Princeton and experience all that great university has to offer his friend. He sees a Harrington prepared to handle the academic load of an operations research and financial engineering major.
He sees a Harrington prepared to handle the ups and downs of volleyball and the many, many hours the sport will require. He sees a Harrington ready to grow as a person from the whole college experience.
"It's really nice having an older guy I can look up to," Harrington says, "and someone who can give me advice on what I'm going to be seeing in my next four years."