All posts by Matt Le Cren

Kevin Bozeman

By Matt Le Cren

Writing and performing

You can write all the jokes in the world, but it doesn’t actually become a joke until someone laughs at it. Creating new content, staying fresh, developing a timing and a delivery, all starts with writing and performing.

Energy of a Live Performance

Standup is one of the purest forms of art, in the sense that you’ve created something and you instantly know if it’s good or not by the response of the audience. I also love to make people laugh.

Being a 2015 Semifinalist on Last Comic Standing

LCS was dope. It definitely ranks up there with my other standup experiences. I wanted to go further, but making it to the top 40 after they had looked at over 5,000 comedians is something to feel good about. In the end, it’s all about validation. Everyone needs it in their line of work, and with standup, entering comedy competitions is a good way to validate that the way you write, the way you perform, and your overall thought process is good enough.

The multitalented Bozeman, who played college basketball at Wisconsin-Whitewater, is a Downers Grove resident who has over 25 years of comedy experience. For a tour schedule or to purchase his new album, 2 Parent Love, visit

Ben Cohen/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

Central Legacy

NCHS football coach Mike Stine

When Naperville Central football coach Mike Stine was inducted into the Illinois High School Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame on March 30 in Champaign, he likely saw some familiar faces.

Stine, who has spent his entire 35-year career at Naperville Central, is the son of Hall of Fame coach Everett “Abe” Stine, who won 222 games and a state championship in 37 years at Byron, some 75 miles northwest of Naperville. The elder Stine and his wife Donna live in Texas, but spend the football season here attending all of their son’s games.

“It’s really special,” Stine says. “My dad is my idol and the one I try to model my coaching career after. I’ve been climbing to get to the top where he’s at.”

Stine has coached with several Hall of Famers, including Larry McKeon and John Jackson. He was an assistant coach when the Redhawks won the Class 6A state title in 1999, and succeeded Hall of Famer Joe Bunge as head coach in 2006.

“I think it’s awesome,” says Naperville Central assistant coach Andy Nussbaum, who has worked with Stine for 25 years. “It’s hard to follow a Hall of Famer, and it’s hard to live up to your dad, but Mike has done that and then some.

“He’s been so great for our football program and our school. There are a lot of things that go on in our football program that people don’t know about, and the positive things that happen are due to Mike Stine’s good, solid core values.”

In 13 seasons, Stine has guided the Redhawks to a 95-44 record, including the 2013 Class 8A state championship. He rises before 5 a.m. every day to work with his players.

“I don’t feel like I’ve gone to work a day in my life,” says Stine, who also coaches girls track. “The reward is having an impact on kids’ lives and trying to help kids grow into positive young adults. I couldn’t ask for anything better.”

Photo by Colleen Abrahamovich

Broad Strokes

Mark Ukena/Pioneer Press

Bill Schalz planned to graduate from Loras College with a business degree and go to work for his father, Phil, who built Northgate Shopping Center in Aurora and owned the local Ace Hardware. Then a phone call changed his life.

Schalz, a 1979 graduate of Marmion Academy, was sitting in his swimming coach’s office one day when she got a call from the athletic director at Wahlert High School in Dubuque, Iowa. Wahlert was looking for college swimmers to coach its girls swimming team. Schalz, then 21, volunteered and coached the varsity team until he graduated.

“It’s kind of a fluke that I got into swimming that way,” Schalz says. “If I hadn’t been in that office, God only knows if I’d be coaching today.”

The Aurora resident’s career change was made permanent when his father passed away while Schalz was still in college. He turned down an offer from his brother to help run the family business and began coaching at the YMCA in Aurora.

That was the beginning of a remarkable career that has seen Schalz, 57, become one of the most respected swimming coaches in the country. He has coached the high school teams at Marmion Academy and its sister school, Rosary High School, for a combined 53 years and is the owner of two businesses.

The first, Swim with Bill, teaches local kids how to swim. The second is Academy Bullets, a club swimming team he started in 1994. Just three years after its inception, the Bullets
won the junior national championships; now the club trains 700 swimmers, making it the largest club in
the Midwest.

Todd Capen, who swam on Naperville North High School’s 1996 state championship team and later for Northwestern, is one of many former Bullets who have gone into coaching. He has worked under Schalz since 2001 and became the Bullets’ head coach in 2006.

“He’s so knowledgeable and passionate,” Capen says. “He has a will to succeed and a will to win that is hard to match. When he sets his mind to something, he will not stop until he’s found a way to accomplish that goal, whatever it is—in business and sport.”

Schalz is always looking to bring the best out of the people around him, whether they are student athletes or fellow coaches.

“I’ve pretty much learned everything I know about swimming from him,” Capen says. “There isn’t a day goes by that we don’t talk multiple times about a variety of topics. He’s still teaching me things today that I have no clue about, and I’m almost 40 years old.”

Schalz is one of two Illinois coaches to win high school state championships in both boys and girls swimming. Marmion won the boys’ title in 2000, while Rosary, an all-girls school with an enrollment of just 300, is favored to win its fourth-straight championship and eighth in the past 13 seasons later this month. Schalz recently announced he is retiring from high school coaching at the end of the school year.

Dozens of Schalz’s swimmers have competed at the U.S. Olympic Trials, including six in 2016. Two others swam for Lithuania at the 2004 Olympics, and his most famous protégé is former world champion Mary DeScenza, who still holds the U.S. record in the 200-meter butterfly.

Yet Schalz does not measure success merely by what his swimmers accomplish in the pool.

“The life lessons that he gives us are so good,” says Rosary senior Anne Tavierne, who has a swimming scholarship to South Carolina. “He will always talk to us about life, things that have nothing to do with swimming, and he really helps us with our mental game because he’s so tough on us.

“Everyone respects him so much. They want to swim well for him. He’s such an awesome person.”

Schalz is thrilled to see his students go on to greater things.

“To me, [my legacy] really is about the amazing people I’ve met on this journey, not only the kids, but the parents,” Schalz says. “These kids who are now adults have gone on and had successful careers, and knowing that I had a little piece of that is pretty cool.”

2018 State Finals

The IHSA girls swimming and diving Aurora Sectional will be held at Metea Valley High School on November 10. First-place winners from each sectional and others who qualify will move on to finals, which will be held at Evanston Township High School on November 16 and 17. For more info, visit

Head First

Students at Naperville middle schools will still be playing football this fall, but you won’t see the players wearing pads or hard helmets.

Facing declining participation rates, Naperville Community Unit School District 203 has decided to switch from tackle to flag football in response to a growing trend as more parents express concerns about the danger of concussions. Neighboring Indian Prairie School District 204 also made the switch to flag.

“For several years, we had been noticing a decline in participation across our schools,” Kennedy principal Brian Valek says. “We were finding ourselves in situations where, because of injuries or low numbers, we had to play 8-on-8. We are hoping that by switching to flag, we’ll see increased participation.”

Instead of 11-on-11, D203 middle schools will play 9-on-9. Players will wear mouth guards and soft helmets designed for flag football or rugby.

“We’ve had a mostly positive response from our parents,” Valek says. “Talking to the athletic directors and head coaches at Naperville Central and Naperville North high schools, they think this is an opportunity to reignite interest in the sport.”

Not everyone agrees with the switch. Steve McDonald, whose son Riley played tackle football at Lincoln Junior High and is now on the sophomore team at Naperville Central, is opposed.

“I think it is going to be more dangerous when they haven’t been taught how to tackle or haven’t learned how to take a hit,” McDonald says. “These kids are getting bigger and stronger at that age. My son grew six inches in just eight months.”

The rationale for delaying the start of tackling is to decrease the number of hits children absorb, because the cumulative effect of collisions eventually takes a toll. The question remains: At what age is it appropriate to begin hitting? Some youth football organizations start tackle football as early as age 7.

“I think junior high is a good time to get them used to tackle,” says McDonald, whose son began playing tackle in fourth grade. “I understand both sides of it. My other son got a concussion and he was a punter for one year. It’s a fine line. I want my kids to be able to participate in sports.”

Parents who want to start their kids in tackle earlier can still do so. Several private organizations like the Naperville Patriots offer tackle football to grade school players. But flag football will allow kids of all sizes to be exposed to the sport.

“We’re focused on getting our kids involved in activities in the middle schools,” Valek says. “We think that we will be able to offer our student athletes a pretty good experience.”

Disc Jockeys

Naperville residents Jeremy Burril and Dylan Power never dreamed they would one day play for a Chicago sports team. Yet the two Neuqua Valley High School graduates can say they are professional athletes after both made the roster of the Chicago Wildfire, a professional frisbee team that plays in the American Ultimate Disc League.

The Wildfire, which pays its players a small per-game stipend, was formed in 2013. This season they are playing six of their seven home games at North Central College’s Benedetti-Wehrli stadium.

“It’s very crazy to me that I’m able to get paid to play this sport,” Burril says. “It’s a huge passion of mine and I’ve always wanted to play at the highest level.”

Burril, who just graduated from Illinois State with a degree in marketing, played football and baseball at Neuqua before switching to Ultimate frisbee. He found his skills as a wide receiver and a middle infielder translated perfectly to frisbee—a fast-paced, non-contact sport that emphasizes throwing and catching.

“At first, I was frustrated that I wasn’t able to make the throws, but I worked really hard to be able to learn how to do that,” says Burril, who ran the club frisbee team at ISU.

Burril had been trying to make the Wildfire team for several years. He finally made the cut this year at the same time as Power, who is the youngest player on the Wildfire roster. Power, who will graduate from College of DuPage before transfering to Wisconsin-Whitewater, initially had to be coerced into trying frisbee.

“I didn’t even like the sport at first,” says Power, whose older brother played frisbee at Neuqua. “My mom made me go outside and throw with my brother as a punishment. Then I started throwing in seventh grade and started getting better.”

Unlike Burril, Power wasn’t a natural athlete. He tried soccer, basketball and baseball, among others, without making an impact. “I was never passionate about other sports,” Power says. “When I came across frisbee, that’s when I started feeling I really had a passion for something.”

Ultimate frisbee is a 7-on-7 game that blends elements of football and soccer and is played on a football field. Three players per team are handlers, or quarterbacks, and four serve as cutters, or receivers. A team scores a point when the disc is caught in the end zone. Games consist of four 12-minute quarters.

“You can’t intentionally hit people, but there is a physical aspect to it,” Power says. “You want to use your
body to dictate where you want [the opponent] to go.”

Burril and his teammates want local sports fans to go check out the Wildfire.

“The future of the sport is looking good,” Burril says. “I can’t wait to see friends and family at the games.”

The Wildfire has four remaining home games at North Central. The next one is against the Detroit Mechanix at 1:00 p.m. on Sunday, June 17.

“We are excited to work with North Central and the Naperville community,” says Wildfire managing partner C.J. O’Brien. “We actually have a huge following in the Naperville area. There are a lot of high school teams in the western and northern suburbs, so we’re looking forward to bringing the games to their backyards and engaging with youth through clinics, coaching and other community events.”

Play Time

Three high school athletes making plays on the court and field, as well as for their collegiate future

Brooke Schramek was in seventh grade when she received her inaugural recruiting letter from a college basketball coach. The Naperville resident got her first scholarship offer, from Butler University, the summer before she started high school.

Brooke, now a 6-foot-1 sophomore at Benet Academy, has more than a dozen offers from Division I programs and is one of the most highly recruited female basketball players in Illinois. She is just one of many local high school athletes for whom the recruiting process has started earlier and gotten more intense.

“When I got [the first offer] I was like, ‘Wait, what? This is already happening?’” Brooke recalls. “I was caught off guard, but it felt so unreal and I couldn’t be happier about it.”

For most teenagers in Brooke’s position, the attention is welcome. But for their parents, while despite being grateful that their child will get a large chunk of their college education paid for, it can be a stressful process.

Brooke’s father Jim is no stranger to the recruiting process. His other daughters, Emily and Kendal, are both playing basketball for Midwest Division II universities after each having helped Benet get to a 4A state championship.

But the older girls weren’t recruited until their junior year and the offers came in a trickle, not a flood. In the past, with rare exceptions, junior year was the crucial time for recruiting and most kids made their college decisions as seniors.

“Now the process happens much earlier,” Jim says. “College coaches are recruiting kids before high school. Now with players like Brooke, if you don’t start talking to her freshman year, you might not have a chance by the time she’s a junior, because schools are already recruiting her.”

It can get hectic for kids, but most enjoy the process. “It’s a lot to take in and a lot to comprehend, balancing high school and calling coaches, but I think it’s such a cool experience,” Brooke says. “It hasn’t been that big of a distraction.

“My dad and [AAU coach Mike Seberger] and [Benet coach Joe Kilbride] help me a lot. My dad will be like, ‘Just call this coach tonight if you have time.’ They help me organize stuff and set up visits.”

Parental involvement is crucial to helping an athlete make a decision. Sixteen-year-old Brooke has already visited nine schools with her parents.

“The other thing I’ve learned to ask is, ‘Who is the coach I can trust the most?’” Jim says. “Because every coach is going to tell you what you want to hear. You’ve got to figure out: When my daughter goes on campus, is that coach the same person who recruited her? I’ve seen time and time again where kids are being shown the dog-and-pony show and when they get on campus it’s completely different.

“The other part that I think is very critical, is you have to have a pulse on coaching changes, and that’s what makes it more difficult now. What is the coach’s record, how long has he or she been there, what are the odds of them getting canned or moving up [to another job]? Sometimes you’re playing Russian roulette.”

That’s true in most sports. North Central College football coach Jeff Thorne has an interesting perspective, in that he recruits athletes and is the parent of a star football player (see sidebar). His son Payton was the quarterback who took Naperville Central to the state quarterfinals last fall as a junior.

“That’s a great question: Who can you trust? Because you don’t have to look very far to see coaches leaving institutions after a year for a better job,” Jeff says. “I’m not suggesting it is wrong for anybody to look for a better job. The problem is the athletes are the ones who are stuck holding the bag.

“So many kids, whether society likes it or not, are choosing institutions in large part because of the coaches—not so much the academics—and they kind of have that backward. Especially at the smaller school level, you’ve got to make sure you’re finding the right fit academically, and then make sure the other ducks fall in a row as far as liking the coaching staff and the athletic program.”

Payton has six Division I offers so far, including one from Western Michigan, and he wants to make his decision by the fall. He says it’s gratifying to feel wanted.

“I got my first letter freshman year,” Payton says. “Being recruited is definitely something that feels good. You know you’ve worked to get to that point, so being recruited is what a lot of people like.”

While many athletes spend months and even years pondering their decisions, others make them quickly.

Katelynn Buescher, a senior midfielder on Naperville North’s girls soccer team, committed to University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign in March of her sophomore year.

“I’m friends with a lot of older people [who have been through the recruiting process], so I knew that I had to get into that field a little bit early,” Katelynn says. “So I started sending emails out my freshman year. They can’t email you back, so you just let them know where you’ll be playing and then you send out follow-up emails that say things like, ‘Thank you so much for coming.’ You continue to show them that you’re interested.”

While an athlete can give verbal commitments at any time, that decision doesn’t become binding until he or she signs a national letter of intent during senior year. Until that happens, athletes can decommit, or a university can withdraw the scholarship offer, for any reason.

But Katelynn is happy she committed early. “I have no regrets,” she says. “I didn’t want to get into junior or senior year when [the scholarships] are all taken and not have different opportunities. I knew I wanted to go to Illinois. I didn’t want where I could play to determine where I went to college.”

Influencers | Mike Girsch

Even as a child, Mike Girsch had an analytical mind. That was definitely true when he was thinking about what he wanted to do for a living. The 1994 Benet Academy graduate dreamed of playing shortstop in the major leagues, but his backup plan was to become a general manager.

Girsch’s first goal is a common aim for baseball-loving kids and the second is a bit out there. Neither is realistic for the vast majority of the population.

Yet Girsch made the latter happen. The kid who was unable to land on the freshman baseball team at Benet eventually succeeded through unorthodox means. On June 30, 2017, Girsh was named vice president and general manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, succeeding John Mozeliak, who was promoted to president of baseball operations.

“There’s not a whole lot of people that can say what they dreamed of doing is where they end up,” Girsch says. “Every now and then someone points out that, ‘God, I’d kill for your job.’ That’s not something you normally hear. It reminds you of how lucky you are.”

Luck played only a small role in Girsch’s success. His athletic career was topped by a stint as an offensive lineman on Benet’s 1993 football team, but his academic achievements include a math degree from Notre Dame and an MBA from the University of Chicago. That led to a successful career in the consulting field. But he didn’t want to do that for the rest of his life.

In his spare time, Girsch put together an analysis of how draft picks should be valued in dollars and emailed it to every Major League Baseball team. Only three teams responded, and the Cardinals eventually hired him as director of amateur scouting in 2006.

Girsch was married with 18-month old twins—and the third of his four children was on the way—when he decided to quit his job, take a cut in pay and move to St. Louis. It was a bold move for a former Cubs fan, yet it came as no surprise to those who know him best.

“Mike is a wise soul,” says his younger brother Greg, who is Benet’s varsity assistant baseball coach and director of development. “He’s always been confident in his ability to achieve whatever he set out to achieve. I remember when he got the opportunity, saying, ‘That’s what Mike does.’ We both grew up loving baseball, but he made it into a career. I’m really proud of him.”

Girsch says he would not have done it without the support of his wife, Kelly, a fellow Benet grad. “She was nervous but totally on board with it,” Girsch says. “You can’t be very picky when you’re looking for baseball jobs.

The career change was risky but Girsch’s timing was impeccable. The book Moneyball had been published a few years before, detailing the Oakland A’s use of statistical analysis in evaluating players. That dovetailed with what Girsch wanted to do. He is one of a growing number of baseball executives with a business background.

“In the last 15 years or so, there has been a transition from looking for ex-players to run teams, to more analytical people with academic backgrounds,” Girsch says. “They still prefer that you have some baseball experience, because that helps in relating to players and coaches, but there’s certainly a model for guys who have done consulting.”

Girsch loves crunching numbers, but he is particularly passionate about baseball analysis. Now this numbers guy is in charge of a nine-figure payroll and helping to run one of the most successful franchises in baseball. During Girsch’s career with the Cardinals, which included six years as assistant general manager, the team has played in three World Series, winning two. Yet the long hours and media scrutiny do not bother him.

“People ask me how much I work and it’s a hard question to answer,” Girsch says. “I spend a lot of time at home reading baseball articles. It is what I would be doing in my free time anyway. So is reading Baseball America considered work? It makes it a lot easier to not think of it as work.”

Girsch’s career has been underpinned by the solid work ethic he learned in high school. “Benet is a very good school with a lot of motivated people who push you to not just get by, but to actually work your butt off and learn,” Girsch says. “That’s where it started for me, and I think that [shows] throughout my career. You don’t do the minimum. You better do more than that, or else someone else will pass you by.”

Girsch didn’t let his dream opportunity pass him by. “It certainly worked out,” he says. “I couldn’t be happier.”

Field Goals

When Veljko Paunovic was hired as the Chicago Fire’s head coach in November 2015, one of the first things he did was search for a place to live.

The Serbian native, who coached his national team to the FIFA Under-20 World Cup championship in 2015, wound up buying a house in Naperville, where he resides with his wife and four children.

“It’s actually exactly what we were looking for,” Paunovic says. “It is a beautiful city.

“The downtown is beautiful and so is the house. I think the people are very nice. It is very similar to the town that my family and I lived in in Madrid.”

Paunovic, a worldly man who speaks five languages, lived in several countries, including Spain, Germany and Russia, during a 16-year playing career that ended in 2011. He quickly learned that Naperville is a soccer hotbed in addition to being a desirable place to live.

“It’s very family-oriented,” Paunovic says. “We have very nice facilities and the schools are great. We got information from the people who know here in the club that [Naperville is] a nice neighborhood.”

One of those people was defender Patrick Doody, who grew up not far from where Paunovic resides.

“I’m always vocal about how great Naperville is,” says Doody, who starred at Neuqua Valley High School from 2008–2011. “I explained to him about some of the local restaurants. I’m hoping he’s happy living in Naperville because it’s such a great place to live and raise a family in.”

Many of those families are huge soccer fans, as Paunovic found out to his delight.

“My [next-door] neighbor was actually a season ticket holder, so he came right away when he saw me,” Paunovic says. “I was in the backyard juggling the ball with my kids and he was like, ‘I can’t believe it when I saw you, this is not happening.’

“So [the neighbors] are excited. I have my daily routine on the day of the game when we play at home, so I visit the same places. If we win, I go [there again]. If we don’t win, I’m not coming back. It’s great that the people are recognizing me and sharing the passion for soccer and for our team.”

Indeed, after finishing in last place the past two seasons, the Fire enjoyed a terrific 2017 regular season, rising to the top of the standings at one point and making their first playoff bid since 2009. Paunovic’s coaching was one reason, as was the addition of star players like German World Cup veteran Bastian Schweinsteiger and US national team stalwart Dax McCarty.

But local talent also played a role. Doody moved into the starting lineup and on August 5 became the first homegrown player in club history to record three assists in one game. Four other players hail from the Chicago area, including 18-year-old Lemont resident Djordje Mihailovic and Downers Grove’s Collin Fernandez.

Doody is one of many pro players to come out of Naperville in the past decade. His former Neuqua teammate Bryan Ciesiulka played for St. Louis in the United Soccer League. Another Neuqua alum, Bryan Gaul, plays professionally in Germany.

Three Naperville natives currently play in the National Women’s Soccer League. Doody’s former Neuqua classmate, Megan Oyster, plays for the Boston Breakers, while Casey Short and Vanessa DiBernardo are on the Chicago Red Stars.

“We have all the ingredients in Naperville,” Paunovic says. “We have people, we have the infrastructure. The result is players like Patrick Doody becoming pros.”

Soccer is the world’s most popular sport, yet it does not yet enjoy the fanatical following here that it does in foreign countries. But Paunovic is optimistic by what he sees in Naperville and the surrounding areas.

“Every day when I drive to the stadium here I see so many soccer fields,” Paunovic says. “It’s something that I used to see in Europe a lot, but seeing that here, especially in Naperville, it makes me feel at home. It makes me also think that there is a huge passion for this sport, which is amazing to see.

“I think the new generation is going to convert that into the passion which is necessary for the sport in this country, and I think Naperville is actually a very good example of what’s going on, not only in Naperville or Chicago, but everywhere else in the United States.”

Local fans share Paunovic’s enthusiasm. The Fire, which played its home games at North Central College in 2002, has a large following in Naperville.

Jim Konrad and Steve Goletz, who coached the boys and girls soccer teams at Naperville North High School, have season tickets in the front row behind the Fire bench at Toyota Park.

“[The Fire’s success] has been a positive thing because the suburbs are so soccer crazy,” Konrad says. “Guys [who] are diehard baseball and football fans now are [noticing] the Fire doing [well]. It’s pulling the high school kids in who will start asking us about Fire players, whereas the last three years, Goletz and I had no one to talk to.”

Goletz has seen more familiar faces from Naperville than usual at Toyota Park this year. “We were always those guys [who] follow the Fire regardless because we love Chicago sports and soccer,” Goletz says. “Now that they’re good, the more casual fan is coming. I use my brother-in-law as an example. He grew up playing park district soccer and then never played again. Once I married my wife, I tried to get him back into soccer. I take him to [some] Fire games, but now he’s looking to buy season tickets because now his daughter plays soccer.”

As a Fire player from Naperville, Doody has seen both sides of it, having grown up attending playoff games at Toyota Park. He says the view is great either way.

“Ever since my rookie year [2015], I feel the connection with Naperville has been big,” says Doody, who now lives in Chicago. “It’s pretty neat being from Naperville. I can go back whenever I want.”

Nothing but Neuqua Net
Patrick Doody signed with the Fire in December 2014, but that wasn’t the first time he played at Toyota Park. Doody was a junior at Neuqua Valley High School when he scored the game-winning goal against Lyons in the championship game of the 2009 Pepsi Showdown.

Tony Kees, who coached Doody at Neuqua Valley and with the Chicago Fire Academy team, called it “a goal for the ages” and revels in Doody’s success.“It’s so wonderful to look back on,” says Kees, who now coaches for Sockers FC. “He’s got a winning pedigree. Even before [the Fire’s] resurgence it was a bit surreal seeing him play on the Toyota Park pitch. Every time I see him out there I’m like, ‘Wow, now he’s getting paid to do it.’”

Influencers | Jeff Thorne

When Jeff Thorne succeeded his father John as North Central College’s head football coach on January 1, 2015, it was the culmination of a lifelong dream. Thorne had played quarterback for his father at what is now Wheaton Warrenville South High School (WWSHS) before going on to star at Eastern Illinois University. John Thorne, who led the team to four state championships at WWSHS in the 1990s, took over at North Central in 2002 and summoned his son.

Thorne served as offensive coordinator throughout his father’s thirteen-year tenure, when the Cardinals went 118-30. Now, has an 18-4 record as head coach, including 11-1 in 2016, when he was named College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin’s Bob Reade Coach of the Year.

You were working in the business world after graduating from college. What got you involved in coaching?
It’s kind of funny how I became the offensive coordinator here. When [my dad] got the job I was still in finance and he asked if I’d come coach the quarterbacks.

We ended up changing a lot of the terminology that he was accustomed to using at WWSHS. At our first scrimmage we were having some trouble getting plays in and at halftime he said, ‘You’re calling the plays.’ From there it just took off.

You coached part-time at first. When did coaching full-time become a goal?
I always knew I wanted to be a coach. I had fallen into finance and really enjoyed it for a time, but once I started coaching with him and being more involved with the game planning and the players, I realized pretty quickly that this is what I wanted to do full-time.

How much did your father influence your coaching style and what did you learn from him?
I remember this very vividly. After the 1994 season, when [WWSHS] lost a lot of talent to graduation, we were in his kitchen and I asked him, ‘Dad, what are you going to do? You’ve graduated everybody.’ He said, ‘Jeff, the more I just worry about doing things the right way, the more things fall into place.’ The next two years they won back-to-back state titles.

That really leaves an impression on a young person. Being able to coach with him on a daily basis has really been a blessing.

You recently moved from Aurora to Naperville. How does it feel to live in town?
We’re really excited. It’s a great place to live. We were ready to get a bigger house. My wife Joanna works two blocks from here by Centennial Beach.

Your son Payton is now a quarterback at Naperville Central. Will he eventually play for North Central?
That’s completely up to him. I would love to coach him. He does have a full scholarship offer already from Western Michigan, so the odds of him coming here and playing for me are slim, but certainly nothing would make me happier. I loved playing for my father, so I know how that relationship goes, but I want him to forge his own path.

Your roster includes a lot of local players, including starting quarterback Broc Rutter. What does that say about the quality of football in Naperville?
This is not just a great place to live but there are really quality families with a lot of great athletes. Some of our best players have been local guys, so we try to keep our local talent. That’s a huge focus of ours.

Do you like where you are now?
It’s been a dream. The college was gracious enough to offer me this opportunity. I feel really blessed to have the chance to sit in this chair.

Cardinal Kickoff
North Central is ranked seventh in the nation in the preseason poll. The Cardinals open the 2017 season when they host Robert Morris at 7:00 p.m. September 2 at Benedetti-Wehrli Stadium. Tickets are $6 for adults; students (with valid ID) and children under three are admitted free of charge. For the season schedule and info,

Dream Job | Sammy Marshall

Sammy Marshall is one of the best softball players in the world, but she began her athletic career as a baseball player.

The Naperville native played in the Naperville Little League for four seasons before switching to softball when she was twelve. That’s also when she began following the Chicago Bandits, the local pro softball team she now plays for.

“It is every athlete’s dream to one day be able to put a professional jersey on and represent your city,” Marshall says. “Growing up in Naperville, I watched the Bandits from when I was twelve years old, so not only is it an honor to wear the Bandits jersey, but it’s a dream come true.”

Marshall, who turned twenty-four in July, was an All-State softball player at Naperville North High School before starring at Western Illinois University. The speedy outfielder was a four-time All-Summit League selection for the Leathernecks and graduated with school career records for stolen bases (134), runs scored (168) and batting average (.456).

Marshall was drafted eighteenth overall by the Bandits in 2015, fulfilling a dream she only recently even dared to imagine. “It honestly didn’t become a thought in my mind until senior year of college,” Marshall says. “Going to a smaller mid-major college, you don’t get all of the hoopla that all the Big Ten, SEC and Pac 10 schools get. So I was just doing my job every day to the best of my ability, and luckily one of the coaches was watching a tournament in the (Rosemont) dome and saw me play and that’s when they became interested.”

Despite not attending a big-name college, Marshall is the first Naperville product to play in the National Pro Fastpitch (NPF), the six-team league the Bandits play in. “I’ve had so many coaches and people in my corner helping me throughout my career that to name them all, your article would be 300 pages long,” Marshall says. “I wish I could give all of them their due, because they deserve it. Naperville is a great softball community. I [faced] some of the best softball players around. It helped me prepare myself for the next level.”

Marshall is thriving in the professional league. She is the starting center fielder for the Bandits, who are the two-time defending NPF champions. Last year she batted .254 and led the league with sixteen stolen bases in eighteen attempts.

“I want to play until I’m sixty-five, but whether my legs keep up with me or not is another story,” Marshall laughs. “I hopefully have a nice long career ahead of me, but I’d like to play for as long as I physically can.”

All NPF players are required to have college degrees and work in the off-season. Marshall, an assistant coach at
St. Leo College in Florida, aspires to coach full-time after her playing career is over. She also wants to help the NPF expand and grow the sport in general.

“Some of the best talent in the whole world is on this field right now and people don’t know it exists, so we need to do a better job of marketing ourselves,” Marshall says. “Everyone thinks that after college the only thing you have left is Team USA. That’s not the case.”

Marshall is thankful for being able to play in front of her parents, Kathy and David, who are Bandits season ticket holders. “Playing for the team I grew up watching is literally my dream come true,” Marshall says. “Every day I get to put this [uniform] on I am unbelievably blessed that I get to do it.”

Play Ball
The Chicago Bandits play their home games at Rosemont Stadium, located at 27 Jennie Finch Way in Rosemont. The regular season, which began June 1, ends August 13. The Bandits have nine home games remaining, beginning with a four-game series starting July 30 against Beijing. For ticket information call 877.722.6348 or visit