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 ihsa.org.