Community support overwhelming for newest Saints Hall of Famer Olsen
Bill Olsen has so many good memories of coaching basketball at his alma mater, St. Charles, it's impossible to pick just one.
Olsen was an assistant with Ron Johnson in the 1980s and 1990s when the Saints took their program to another level.
"We were fortunate at that time because we were growing as a city and growing as a school," Olsen said. "All of us coaches were really enjoying that time. I've nicknamed it the glory years because we were getting bigger and bigger and bigger and nobody wanted to schedule us because we were too big. We were a force to be reckoned with."
Olsen can't say enough good things about the Hall of Famer Johnson, and this year Olsen also was chosen to the St. Charles Hall of Fame.
Olsen, a 1972 St. Charles graduate, said the honor meant more because of growing up in St. Charles. He played baseball and basketball for the Saints, graduating when the high school was located at the current Thompson Middle School.
After graduating college from Wisconsin-Stevens Point, he returned to teach for eight years at both Wasco Elementary and Thompson before teaching for 16 years at St. Charles High School where he also was heavily involved in Saints sports as a coach.
"I know them all," Olsen said of the Hall of Famers he's joining. "I know every single one of those people because my dad was born and raised in St. Charles so he knew a lot of the old-timers and he familiarized me with them. I was influenced by a number of great teachers and coaches."
Hall of Fame couple
Olsen also is married to a St. Charles Hall of Famer, Jennifer Olsen-Heyer, who coached the Saints girls swimming team to six straight state championships from 1994-99.
"Bill was my No. 1 fan," said Olsen-Heyer, who coached the Saints from 1989 to 2002, later coached at Neuqua Valley and is currently coaching at Downers Grove North.
When the couple had their first daughter, Hannah, in 1997, they decided that Jennifer would keep coaching and stop teaching, and Bill would do the opposite.
"When she was winning state championships, I said I don't need to keep coaching," Bill said. "I've enjoyed plenty of time. I knew I wasn't going to be able to do it at the level it needed to be done."
Instead, Bill -- who also coached girls golf and was a regular in the football press box running the clock -- cheered on the swimmers. Just like he did for so many other state champions he taught at St. Charles.
"There's something about that when you have teams performing at a high level you can just feel it in the building," Bill said.
Olsen originally was scheduled to be inducted into the Saints Hall of Fame this fall. The pandemic changed that, and it also has postponed the rescheduled ceremony during this basketball season.
The Olsens have been dealt a blow during this time. Bill was diagnosed with leukemia on Dec. 15 and was transferred from Delnor Hospital to Northwestern Memorial where he will be until at least Jan. 21 undergoing numerous blood transfusions.
Bill said he's thankful for all the support the past couple weeks.
"I've gotten more emails and texts and cards from a number of people I taught with," Olsen said. "The number of people I've crossed paths with that have remembered and reached out to me is incredible."
It's been a time when the Saints' coaching family is coming through again.
"We have a lot of mutual friends in coaching, it's an awesome group," said Jennifer, mentioning among others Dave Bartz, Mark Gould, Tim Dailey, Mark Brown and Mick Ruettiger. "Great friends, they have been huge in this whole thing calling and texting to check in on Bill. And my swimmers from back in the day have checked in. The outpouring from both sides of coaching has been extremely special and very touching."
The plan now is to have the Hall of Fame ceremony in September of 2021.
Bill hopes to reunite then with so many friends who remember those Saints basketball teams he and Johnson coached. He said his role in practices was to work with the big guys and teach the team's man-to-man help defense.
"We had so many good kids," Bill said. "Ron, the man was a player's coach. The kids loved him. He had a set offense we ran but within the set offense if you felt you could beat your man you were provided that opportunity."
Olsen mentioned late Saints athletic director Jodie Harrison, who the Hall of Fame is named after, as one of his greatest influences. There's been so many in a lifetime of growing up playing sports in St. Charles and then giving back as a coach.
And now the couple are so grateful in their time of need to the community that's also giving back.
"He's got a cheering section that's from all over the place, players from his from his first years, calls from elementary school teachers, it's crazy but it's truly being in a situation like this relying back on support we are feeling is just amazing," Jennifer said. "It helps so much."