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updated: 2/5/2014 11:12 PM

McKeon heads Naperville North hall class

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  • Head Coach Larry McKeon offers suggestions during practice. The Naperville North Huskies football team takes to its field resplendent with a new Field Turf artificial playing surface for the first time this year on Wednesday, August 12.

      Head Coach Larry McKeon offers suggestions during practice. The Naperville North Huskies football team takes to its field resplendent with a new Field Turf artificial playing surface for the first time this year on Wednesday, August 12.
    SCOTT SANDERS | Staff Photographer


Retired four years now, former Naperville North football coach Larry McKeon voices a lament common among his peers.

"It's funny," he said, "how after years of coaching you remember the losses more than you remember the victories."

That's how coaches think, perfectionists that they are. The reality is great coaches such as McKeon are remembered as winners.

"He is one of the best ever as a leader and as a football coach," said Sean Drendel, Naperville North Class of 1990, one of McKeon's former players, assistants and his successor as Huskies head coach.

The leader of state-champion football squads in 1992 and 2007, McKeon will be inducted into the Naperville North Athletics Hall of Fame at 5 p.m. Friday in the school Performing Arts Center. Inductees also will be announced between sophomore and varsity boys basketball games against Wheaton Warrenville South, around 6:30 p.m. Friday.

He'll be presented by retired Naperville North principal Neil McCauley: "He's the guy who hired me and never fired me," McKeon joked.

Also a deserved Illinois High School Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame selection, McKeon will be canonized Friday with former Naperville North track and cross country runner Lisa Bonistalli, wrestler Nick Fanthorpe, baseball player Alec Porzel, discus champ Steve Pribamsky and soccer player Mike Matkovich plus school supporter Cliff Preston, who for years was the volunteer responsible for assembling the football chain gangs.

"I think anytime you're honored by your peers, that's probably the biggest thing," McKeon said.

For a man who claims to remember heartbreaking losses more than wins -- four state semifinal losses stick in his mind -- McKeon enjoyed a lot of the latter. Along with the two titles he won at Naperville North, plus a 1-point loss to Homewood-Flossmoor in the 1994 Class 6A championship, as a young buck he contributed to three state championships in four seasons as an assistant to Gordie Gillespie at Joliet Catholic.

Before arriving at Naperville North in 1983, McKeon went 30-17 in five seasons at Plainfield, going 8-1, 9-2 and 6-3 his last three years.

In 27 seasons at Naperville North, McKeon's Huskies went 231-72 with 12 10-win seasons and 23 playoff appearances. In all that time Naperville North finished below .500 once, his first year in 1983. Overall, McKeon's 261-89 lifetime record is tied for 16th in Illinois prep history.

"In those beginning years the talent level wasn't great, and as we became a bigger school I think the talent, the coaching staff and the administration all came on board and we put together what I think was a pretty good program," he said.

More than 50 of his players went on to the college ranks, and he produced 26 all-state selections including his own son, Corey. A three-year starting linebacker at Nebraska, Corey works for the McKesson pharmaceutical company in Omaha; daughter Molly works for Yahoo in Los Angeles.

Nowadays, Larry McKeon does a little local football consulting, "trying to coach coaches a little bit," he said. It sounds, though, like his heart is in northern Wisconsin, Eagle River, where he and his wife, Sandy, have a place. For those six months out of the year they explore the woods, ride motorcycles, fish.

"You don't do too much when you're retired," McKeon said. From here that sounds like victory.

High time

West Chicago girls basketball coach Kim Wallner will be recognized for her 400th career victory before the Wildcats' game against Neuqua Valley, 7:15 p.m. Thursday.

Wallner reached the milestone Dec. 23 in a 47-43 win over Joliet Central at the Oswego East holiday tournament. She's spent the last 30 years as a coach in the program, 28 as head coach.

Well deserved

One of our favorites, Norm Hillner, retired Lake Park boys soccer coach and currently director of operations for Northwestern University men's soccer, recently received a nice honor.

At the National Soccer Coaches Association of America's 67th annual awards banquet in Philadelphia on Jan. 17, Hillner earned a Letter of Commendation, one of only five people recognized. In general terms, the Letter of Commendation salutes an NSCAA member who goes above and beyond in contributing to the organization and/or to United States soccer.

It also means his resume just got longer. The short list: An NSCAA member since 1981, Hillner is a past president of the Illinois High School Soccer Coaches Association, a 25-year member of the IHSSCA Board, an inductee into its Hall of Fame and a four-time recipient of the IHSSCA Soccer Person of the Year award.

With the NSCAA among other things Hillner has served as state and regional representative for All-America and Coach of the Year awards, in addition to consulting with other states in forming their own high school soccer coaches associations.

Early riser

As a sophomore last volleyball season, Benet libero Tiffany Clark recorded 274 digs, second on the Redwings behind the program-record 562 of Wake Forest-bound senior Caroline Wolf. Clark's total was 10th in history for Benet, and on top of that she added 377 kills, fourth on the team.

And on top of that Clark just verbally committed to Michigan. Benet coach Brad Baker noted she'll be the 10th Benet defender pegged as a Division I libero since the Class of 2009, and Benet's 31st Division I commit since 2008.

He also said it's somewhat rare for a sophomore to commit unless they get an offer from a college they really like. That was definitely the case for Tiffany Clark.

"My heart was set on Michigan," she said.

She's not even sure why, but after a couple visits, she was hooked.

"It was just like a fairy tale to me, so I was like, why wait when my dream school was offering me?" she said.

Tall for a libero at 5-10, which is why at times she also started at outside hitter, Clark had some in-house experts to give advice. Older siblings Chris and Amanda both were Neuqua Valley soccer players. Chris went on to play at Santa Clara and Iowa, and Amanda at Notre Dame.

"Basically both of them said, why wait, do it now," Tiffany said, "and they're both very excited for me."

Before helping Benet go 36-6 last fall, plus a second-place finish in Class 4A, Clark helped her Sports Performance club team win the AAU national championship in the 15-Under Open Division.

She spoke with Michigan recruiting director Erin Virtue -- a St. Francis graduate -- and also coach Mark Rosen, who had seen her play last year. In January Rosen watched her practice, then sent Clark an email asking her to call him. When she did he extended the offer. She committed over the phone.

"He really likes my intensity and work ethic. I just think it's a perfect match," Clark said.

"It was definitely a weight lifted off my shoulders after the whole college process, it was really overwhelming and can be pretty stressful at times," she said. "It's not written in stone, but it's nice that I have a place to go and I'm committed to."

Follow Dave on Twitter @doberhelman1

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