Football can serve as a microcosm of life itself. Wheaton Warrenville South coach Ron Muhitch proved it yet again.
A seven-time state champion either as defensive coordinator or head coach for the Tigers, on Aug. 16 Muhitch presented an address at the Wheaton Chamber of Commerce's monthly membership luncheon titled: "The Fine Art of Building a Winning Team: Lessons for Business Learned on the Gridiron."
At Warrenville's Hubble Middle School Muhitch -- in the residential real estate business for the past two decades in addition to his 32 years as an educator, 22 of them as department chair for WW South's physical education, health and safety program -- divulged philosophies that have served him and the Tigers so well. In February Muhitch received the National Federation of State High School Associations' 2011 Illinois coach of the year award.
"We are in the kid business," Muhitch told his audience. "We are trying to build champions. That is not a win-loss statement, but building champions from the inside-out."
He distributed a bulletin on football philosophy he designed with North Central College and former WW South coach John Thorne that hits on 16 points from academics to respect to safety to humility to family. Muhitch said he hands this philosophy to every person seeking to be part of the Tigers program. If they disagree with one aspect of it, "they came to the wrong interview."
Muhitch said he will interview each of his incoming seniors for up to three hours, asking them questions such as who they believe the team's top leaders are, who would benefit most from leadership, and who are the most unheralded. He's found it applies not only to the upcoming season, but to life goals.
"You pour your heart and soul into this, and you want to see good things happen," he told the Chamber.
Seems to be working.
Defying logic and reason
Last Saturday presented a unique football doubleheader at St. Francis.
First the Spartans varsity and sophomores engaged in their annual intersquad scrimmage. Then came a special event dubbed, "Remember the Spartans, St. Francis Alumni Football Classic."
Forty-eight former St. Francis players, traveling from as far away as California, played a game pitting graduates from the classes of 1988-94 against those from 1995-2001.
"Someone else came from Colorado. That's how much they wanted to relive their youth," said Ann Dixon-Brundage, Class of 1986, on St. Francis' Alumni Association.
The oldest player was Steve Keough, Class of 1988. His side lost 20-0 to the more youthful Spartans, including Tim Skryd, Ryan Hogan, Rob Kruml, Jeff Moorhouse and Pat Virtue, the Californian.
This was real football, with practices leading up to the game, players wearing full pads and hitting hard.
"There were no severe injuries for either team, so it was a great success," Dixon-Brundage reported.
Planned by graduates Kevin Read and Charlie Walsh -- out of the Class of 1991, Walsh lined up against his younger brother, Mike -- it was not only an exercise in self-destruction but a fundraiser as well. More than $16,000 worth of new football equipment was donated to the program, and $18,000 was raised for the school's scholarship fund. Even the split-the-pot raised $1,500 from the crowd of more than 800. (Additional donations may be made at firstname.lastname@example.org)
It was a throwback to a reunion game the late Immaculate Conception coach Jack Lewis and former Spartans coach Mike Mariani planned decades ago. Mariani's wife, Shirley, accepted an award on her husband's behalf at halftime.
The former Spartans had such a good time they stayed on the field a half-hour after the game, then retired to an establishment to continue the festivities.
"I think they were crazy," Dixon-Brundage said, "but hey, it went to a good cause."
Mentor to mentee
Lake Park coach Chris Roll needed an offensive line coach, and fast. The incumbent, Larry Nawrot, moved out of state two weeks before summer camp began in June. Two other candidates fell through.
Roll turned to someone he's known for more than two decades -- former Lake Park head coach Andy Livingston.
Some questioned Roll, since he had served as an assistant to the retired German teacher for 15 years, including the last two as Lake Park's offensive coordinator in 2009-10.
Roll scoffed at the doubters and called it a "huge teaching boost."
"They don't get it," he said. "He was just someone I could wholeheartedly trust. It's been a seamless transition."
Last year at this time Livingston was in his first year of retirement, living in an apartment in Niederweimar, Germany, the defensive line coach for the Marburg Mercenaries of the German Football League coached by old pal Joe Roman.
Five months apart from wife Leland -- now in her final year teaching at Glenbard East -- did not fly. So Livingston stayed home this year and was in fact going to coach the defensive line at Naperville Central.
Hearing Roll's request, he felt obligated to come to the aid of the former Lake Park and Indiana University player. Then Livingston had to request dismissal from Naperville coaches Mike Stine and John Urban.
"They were princes: 'You've got to help a friend, there's not even a question.' They were extremely understanding and kind about it," said Livingston, an offensive lineman himself back in the day at Wheaton Central.
Livingston said the opportunity has been "wonderful" and contains no friction.
"Student becomes teacher and mentor becomes mentee," Livingston said. " ... The roles have been reversed, and it's pretty neat."
In the sunshine once more
Thankfully, Ben Wilson is another coach back in the fold.
Wheaton Academy's head coach since 2006, when the program emerged after 19 years of dormancy, Wilson resigned Jan. 18 following a seven-hour surgery in October 2011 to remove a benign, golf ball-sized tumor at the base of his brain between the pituitary gland and optic nerves. A week later he had follow-up surgery to clean up blood in the brain that was causing seizures.
Doctors later told him 60 percent of people who have that surgery don't return to work due to changes in brain function. When Wilson woke up the next day and asked who won the prior night's World Series game and checked his fantasy football stats, they knew he was in decent shape.
A receiver on Maine South's 1995 state title team, Wilson is back teaching physics at Wheaton Academy, and better yet he is new Warriors coach T.J. Ragan's assistant head coach and offensive coordinator.
"He's been invaluable," Ragan said. "I've been very impressed because he's a man that for six years poured his life into the program, and it was not about him."
Ragan, who'd spoken and even met with Wilson prior to arriving from Colorado's Valor Christian High School, asked Wilson this spring if he would consider returning to the program.
"He really wanted to pick my brain on a lot of things," Wilson said, no pun intended.
There was a question of stamina, but Wilson said his energy level is getting back to normal. A biannual MRI identified a BB-sized tumor remnant, but it hasn't changed in size and doesn't seem to be an issue. Wilson said his health is "on an upswing."
"For me the biggest thing is when I'm back out on the field coaching I'm just thankful to God for blessing me with health right now," Wilson said. "I'm incredibly grateful just for being out there ... being out there in the sunshine and doing what I love."
Home away from home
Montini coach Chris Andriano, out of Palatine's Class of 1970, will be inducted into Palatine's Athletic Hall of Fame in a ceremony Friday when Andriano's Broncos make the trip north for their opener.
"It's my hometown, it means a lot," Andriano said.
He was nominated by classmate Dave Hasbach, who pitched five years in the Kansas City Royals farm system.
A three-sport athlete at Palatine and a receiver who went on to Millikin, Andriano said he became the Mid-Suburban League's leading receiver in yardage and receptions in his senior season in 1969. He was a member of the Daily Herald's first All-Area Team that year.
His mother, Dorothy, still lives in the house he lived in as a boy -- and decorates her lawn with Montini memorabilia.
"I grew up there, I've got a lot of friends there, a lot of memories. It was a great time in my life," the coach said.