How high school coaches are helping ensure 9/11 is never forgotten

  • Fans wave American flags during an NFL game in Baltimore on the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.

    Fans wave American flags during an NFL game in Baltimore on the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. AP File Photo

  • Prospect boys basketball coach Brad Rathe was a senior at Lake Zurich on Sept. 11, 2001.

      Prospect boys basketball coach Brad Rathe was a senior at Lake Zurich on Sept. 11, 2001. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • Barrington football coach Joe Sanchez was the Broncos' defensive coordinator in 2001. He became head coach in 2002.

      Barrington football coach Joe Sanchez was the Broncos' defensive coordinator in 2001. He became head coach in 2002. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

Posted9/11/2023 5:00 AM


Like Pearl Harbor Day (December 7), or the day JFK was assassinated (November 22), 9/11 is a day that will forever live in infamy.


That day in 2001, when terrorists flew planes into the twin towers then known as the World Trade Center, and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., is one of those days that, if you were old enough, you'll never forget where you were.

Now, 22 years later, the student-athletes we cover and write about in this space, have to rely on their parents and their teachers/coaches to tell them of that Tuesday morning, when the skies in New York City were crystal clear until they weren't -- until they were filled with the black smoke caused by the two jetliners that plowed into the towers.

Today, instead of writing about sports, we're offering a history lesson of 9/11 from the eyes of Joe Sanchez, the head football coach at Barrington, and Brad Rathe, the head boys basketball and girls golf coach at Prospect.

Sanchez, who this past Friday became the Mid-Suburban League's all-time winningest football coach, was, in 2001, in his sixth year as a social studies teacher at Barrington. He was the Broncos' defensive coordinator and assistant head coach. He would take over the program in 2002, following the retirement of Al Kamradt.

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"I was teaching my U.S. history class first hour when I first heard about something happening in NYC," Sanchez recalled. "One of my students said he heard on the radio as he was coming to school about a plane flying into the World Trade Center. I told him I had not heard anything about it and we just moved on. At the end of the period another social studies teacher, Mrs. Rockwell, knocked on my door and motioned me to come outside. She proceeded to tell me about the attack in NYC and that there was going to be an announcement made to the entire school. I happened to have the next period off and immediately went down to our office to see what was going on. I was in shock and disbelief like everyone else at the time watching the footage. It was like I was watching a movie but I knew it wasn't. The rest of the day all we did was watch what was unfolding in all of our classes and try to understand the significance of it all."

Rathe, meanwhile, was a senior student-athlete at Lake Zurich.

"As I went to my second-period English class, there was some unusual talk among the teachers that caught our attention," he said. "By third-period math, the word was out but it was still unclear what really was happening. I was fortunate enough to have lunch next with an open period stacked on top of it so me and some friends went to my house and watched the coverage. I still remember watching that day."

Sanchez had a more immediate need to start "teaching" about 9/11. Rathe took on that task after college when he became a social sciences teacher.

They each agree that 9/11 can't be forgotten, in the classroom or in athletics.

"I think it is critically important (to remember)," Sanchez said. "Every year for the last 21 years when we are near 9/11 we have made a point in our department to spend some time teaching about this event to make sure our students understand the significance this event has had on our nation and the rest of the world."


Said Rathe: "I still find it very important. I have covered it on 9/11 every year of my career. Usually with a video and some pictures. I visited ground zero and the museum a few years back and it was one of the most powerful places I have ever visited. I usually show my classes my pictures and tell them about the eerie quietness in the museum. I still think it is very relevant for kids to know about it, even if they were not alive when it happened."

In 2001, all sports came to a halt that day -- high school, college and pro alike, some for over a week, some for a few days.

"What I remember specifically about the day from a football perspective was practice was canceled that day, as it should have been," Sanchez said. "We met after school as a team to explain what we knew was happening at the time. We talked to the boys, told them there was no practice and to go home and make sure to check in with their families and loved ones and as we find out information we would share it with them. We did not know what was going to happen that week. We weren't sure if we were going to play that week but we did end up playing Rolling Meadows that week. I think it was a big emotional lift to play that week especially since NFL games were canceled. I think for us it was an opportunity to honor all the men and women who were lost on that tragic day."

Rathe saw things from an athlete's perspective.

"I was playing high school soccer at that time and I remembered the patriotic response we all felt as students," he said. "I don't recall any major changes besides postponing some games, but I do remember watching the NFL's response and remembering that was one of those (now rare) times in U.S. history where we felt a true sense of togetherness.

"I think we can all agree that politics have become divisive and have been now for some time. But remembering 9/11 and the collective response by the country to unite behind those who lost their lives and to the heroes that went into those buildings trying to save others is a pretty remarkable thing to recall."

Recollections we hope educators will never forget, and never stop passing along to their students.

John Radtke can be reached at

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