Naperville coaches remember 'class act' Sterr

Depending on who you ask, Bob Sterr had a unique coaching style and sense of humor. But everyone who had the pleasure to meet the longtime Naperville Central coach and teacher knew one thing for sure: they were in the presence of a great human being.

Sterr, who passed away Thursday at the age of 85, coached boys basketball and both boys and girls golf for the Redhawks until his retirement in 2003. He piled up 379 wins on the hardwood and coached three state tournament golf teams. He coached all-stater Anthony Parker, who starred at Bradley University and played in the NBA and overseas after being a first-round pick by the New Jersey Nets in 1997.

Sterr also taught math at Naperville Central following a teaching and coaching career at Bishop McNamara. All told, he taught math for 45 years and won more than 500 basketball games. Even so, his friends and colleagues consider his athletic achievements as just a small part of his greatness. With a goal of helping high school kids develop into great people, Sterr always treated students and athletes fairly and with their best interests' top of mind.

"Bob Sterr was a quality human being. He was awesome. He was always great to me as mentor and a colleague," said Andy Nussbaum, the school's girls basketball coach now entering his 34th season. "He was a great math teacher, a great department colleague, he and his wife had six kids. A great family guy. He was a class act. He was always great to me."

Inspired by the examples of his dad, who coached Little League and other youth teams, and his St. Patrick's High School coach, Pete Laffey, Sterr looked forward to one day becoming a teacher and coach, seeing coaching as an extension of the classroom. He pursued this passion at St. Mary's in Minnesota, where he earned his B.A., and at Northern Illinois University, where he earned an M.S.Ed. Sterr began his coaching career at Bishop McNamara in 1965, happy to return to his home community of Kankakee.

Sterr was married to Mary Kay for more than six decades and the couple had six children and 11 grandchildren.

A great storyteller, he is also remembered for his Sterr-isms. One of Nussbaum's favorites is: "'Grandma's slow, but she's old.' In other words, pick it up boys. There were several Bob Sterr-isms, that was just one of them."

When Marty Bee, who coached cross country at rival Naperville North, switched to Central to become the athletic director at the school in 1996, the veteran coach made him feel quite welcome.

"There's nothing but nice things to say about him. Everybody who coached with him, or against him or worked with him, I didn't know anybody who would say a bad thing," Bee said. "There might be some people who were more interested in winning at the high school level than developing character in kids. They might have disagreed with some of the things he said or some of the things he did. But no one could disagree with the fact that he treated kids fairly. He had high expectations for kids to become better people. To me that's the essence of a great coach.

"The Sterr-isms would pop out every once in a while, and he was a lot of fun to play golf with. When I got to Central back in '96, he was the Dean of the coaches at the time. He always had class. He was just an outstanding person. He was an outstanding teacher. I think that made him a great coach. And being a good coach made him a great teacher. That goes hand in hand. He's just a great example of a guy who was in it for the kids ... and you could see that every day. Both in the classroom and in the coaching."

Current boys basketball coach Pete Kramer was the sophomore coach for 12 years before taking over for Sterr at the varsity level in 2003-04. He credits Sterr with helping him become a better coach and a better person.

"He was a great friend, a great man and father. He was like a second dad to me. He will be truly missed, but at the same time he was just a class act. Someone that touched a lot of different people in a lot of different ways. We know he's going to a better place," said Kramer, who is starting his 20th year as the Redhawks boys head coach.

"He had kind of a different style, his own style, and he believed in it. I learned a ton from him and not just basketball. Just the way he handled himself and the way he treated me and what he did for me. I always, always looked up to him. He knew that. [Assistant] Dave Dillon was right there with us. We were a pretty tight knit group for a long period of time. I was fortunate enough to get to follow Bob when he did retire. He meant a lot to me. First word that comes to me is class. He had a lot of class. A lot of patience. He just genuinely liked people."

In 1999, Sterr was inducted into the Illinois Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame. He won 144 games at Bishop McNamara before compiling a 379-264 mark in 24 seasons at Naperville Central. With Parker leading the way, the school reached the Sweet 16 in 1993 before a tough loss to Fremd prevented a trip downstate. His teams won 10 conference titles and 9 regionals.

But again, what Parker remembers has more to do with Sterr's personality than his coaching.

"[Coach] Sterr's positivity, genuineness, and how much he cared for people are the biggest things I took from him and I still try to model him in that way," said Parker, the brother of WNBA star Candace Parker.

Current golf coach Barry Baldwin, who served as Sterr's assistant golf coach for four years, has many fond memories of his mentor and friend.

"Bob Sterr was a mentor in every way. He coached the right way," Baldwin said. "He cared more about the player as a person than as a player. All the wins and success in the program were a byproduct of his compassion towards young people and their development as not only players but more importantly as people. Character meant everything to Coach.

"One of my favorite stories of Coach was we were taking Mike Baldwin down to the state golf tournament. On the way we passed over 'Money Creek'. Coach asked Mike: 'Do you know why they call it Money Creek?' Mike said, 'No'. Coach said, 'Because there is a bank on each side.' Mike gave a token laugh. The next day Mike is on the back nine of his first round and turns to coach 'Oh I get it! A bank on each side!'"

The wins and the sports achievements are a many. But memories and the lives touched are far greater.

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