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It's obvious Naperville North girls water polo coach Andy McWhirter prefers talking about his team, players past and present and the growth of the sport than about being inducted into the Illinois Water Polo Hall of Fame in Elmhurst on May 28.
Questions about the honor elicit responses focusing on the Huskies boys and girls water polo teams each owning No. 1 sectional seeds; the West Suburban Water Polo club that under McWhirter went from nil to more than 400 players feeding into the five District 203 and 204 high schools; the satisfaction of graduating "kids" — like current Naperville Central girls water polo coach Jeff Plackett, Huskies Class of '97 — to college programs.
"This whole thing and the hall of fame recognition, it's about the kids," said McWhirter, also Naperville North's boys and girls swim coach. "I earned my ribbons and medals a long time ago, now it's time for the kids realizing their dreams."
Plackett has realized such dreams, four top-four state finishes in five seasons, including 2012 and 2009 runner-up spots. The Naperville Central coach, whose No. 2-seeded Redhawks could create a cross-town sectional title clash Saturday morning at Neuqua Valley, nominated his mentor for the hall of fame.
"Andy's generosity extends beyond those athletes he coaches," Plackett said. "As a young coach myself, I often turned to Andy for tips and suggestions for how to tackle problems I had not encountered before. I owe a lot of my own success to Andy McWhirter.
"You won't find another coach who has anything bad to say about Andy. His sense of sportsmanship and fair play are admirable. He patiently works to find the positive, coachable qualities in all athletes and situations."
Time and again veteran coaches cite the relationships they've made. McWhirter's coached water polo 18 years, founding the Huskies programs before the Illinois High School Association sanctioned a state series. He'll go into the Illinois Water Polo Hall alongside friend George Horn, who started with Brother Rice and Loyola but now is coaching Naperville North's boys.
McWhirter coaches Horn's daughter, freshman Katie, on the Huskies girls team. One of McWhirter's four children, Mike, is a senior for Waubonsie Valley.
"We're hoping as we both go through the sectionals here that both will be recognized as all-sectional players and go on to be named all-state at the same time we go into the hall of fame," McWhirter said.
Naperville North's best state finish was the fourth-place team that finished 31-4 in 2004. To approach that level the Huskies would have to prevail in the anticipated match against Naperville Central and his former player. A match against the "respectful" cross-town rival also sounds like something McWhirter prefers.
"It's going to be a great game as both teams are well matched toward each other and both will be ready to play for a win," he said.
Watch the birdie
Terry Clarke is York's wrestling coach and has been in the Dukes' football program 33 years. Brandon Murphy is an assistant wrestling coach at Willowbrook. Glenbard East's Brad Lundine is a football and baseball man.
What is it about these men that drew them into badminton?
"They're guys that can motivate," said Clarke, an assistant to York coach Nicole Young, whose badminton team enters this weekend's state meet at Eastern Illinois University off a ninth straight sectional title. Clarke follows former football coach Bill Lech as a York assistant; York's retired hall of fame football coach Gary Grouwinkel was head badminton coach.
"I think a lot of head coaches in badminton, they like to recruit coaches that have maybe been successful in other areas," Clarke said.
This area is a badminton hotbed, joining the Stevenson-Fremd-Buffalo Grove and Reavis-Thornton Fractional South regions. Nine different DuPage schools won sectionals.
Entering Friday's competition the No. 1 singles seed is Hinsdale Central senior Ailynna Chen. Hinsdale South's Emma Adcock, half of last year's championship doubles team, is the No. 5 singles seed. This year's top-seeded doubles team is Downers North seniors Emily Planek and Emily Buhle.
Other top-16 seeded singles players among the 64 state qualifiers include Naperville Central's Alisa Liu and Vivian Xu, Naperville North's Kyleen Jan, Downers North's Amanda Schneeweis, York's Georgia Schneider and Hinsdale Central's Brina Gartlan.
"It's not a huge spectator sport, but it's a great game that I don't think a lot of people know about," Clarke said. "In the springtime it's track and field and baseball and now soccer. Badminton is alive and well in the Chicagoland area."
Bring it all Back Home
A groundbreaking ceremony for St. Francis' new Kuhn Memorial Stadium complex will be held at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the existing field. Wheaton Park District Executive Director Mike Benard, Fr. John Belmonte, superintendent of Catholic schools for the Joliet Diocese, the St. Francis board and various athletic program heads and a bevy of Spartans supporters will be on hand to see the dawning of this momentous development.
"I'm just really excited about what this means for our community," said St. Francis president Tom Bednar. "I know this has been something people have dreamed about for four decades, and it'll be just a joy to have it be a realization."
Phase I of the twofold development includes a FieldTurf athletic field, restructured home and visitors stands, a new press box (yippee!) and a 400-meter, six-lane track with 120-meter straightaway constructed by Midwest Track Builders, Bednar said.
Thus far Bednar said about $3,050,000 has been pledged by 347 donors — including the cool $1 million from St. Francis graduates Ron and Teri Kuhn — with 70 percent collected thus far. Another large chunk is expected by the end of May with the remainder coming this summer.
Phase II, with an initial budget of $1.4 million, will deliver a two-story building to house concessions, locker room, restrooms, storage and a second-floor practice space for wrestling, cheerleading and dance. Bednar hopes to start raising cash for that this summer with construction next summer.
For now it's a kick to consider St. Francis will host football on campus for the first time in more than two years — possibly the Aug. 30 opener against Riverside-Brookfield — and next spring girls and boys track coach Scott Nelson can host a meet for the first time, period.
"Coming off of gravel, that's going to be heaven for Scott and his program," said Spartans athletic director Dan Hardwick. "The excitement and the buzz we've got going around the building and what it's going to mean for our student-athletes is very exciting."
While evicting the Canada geese who enjoy the current floodplain, the new field obviously will also benefit soccer, lacrosse, marching band and physical education classes.
"There won't be a student who won't be using it at some point of the year," Bednar said.
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