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updated: 2/18/2016 5:30 PM

Sandburg's Sporty Seven leaving quite a standard in Mundelein

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  • Carmel Catholic tight end Noah Turner is among the seven athletes from a single class which attended Carl Sandburg Middle School in Mundelein who will end up playing NCAA Division I sports. Turner will join the football team at North Carolina next school year.

      Carmel Catholic tight end Noah Turner is among the seven athletes from a single class which attended Carl Sandburg Middle School in Mundelein who will end up playing NCAA Division I sports. Turner will join the football team at North Carolina next school year.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer


Ah, middle school … a time of awkwardness, self-discovery and constant change.

Few of us are dying to re-live our middle school years, but in this case, it seems appropriate.

Carl Sandburg Middle School in Mundelein, circa 2012. Those were the days.

Think about how tough it is for a high school athlete to get a Division I college scholarship. At some high schools in some years, there are no Division I athletes. Not a single one in the entire building.

That's what makes the story of Sandburg so extraordinary.

Turns out that the eighth grade graduating class of 2012 at Sandburg, which includes current high school seniors in the Class of 2016, has produced not one, not two but seven Division I college athletes, most of whom signed their official letters of intent earlier this month.

Noah Turner of Carmel will be playing football at North Carolina, Carmel baseball players Joey Santoro and Cooper Johnson will be playing baseball at Army and Ole Miss respectively and Emma Bartz of Carmel will be playing softball at Northwestern.

Meanwhile, Mundelein soccer players Janeece Ader and Yann Nsoga will be playing at Alabama State and Eastern Illinois respectively while Mundelein baseball player Reese Dolan will be playing at Southern Illinois.

All seven of those kids were classmates at Sandburg. They are all from the town of Mundelein.

Drawing from a smaller pool and from only kids who live in Mundelein, Sandburg's 2012 ratio of students to eventual Division I college athletes blows most high schools out of the water.

"This is definitely rare," said Michael Fansler, the athletic director at Sandburg and a physical education teacher who remembers all seven Division I kids, the "Sporty Seven," from the Class of 2012. "You're lucky if you get one Division I athlete from a middle school class. To have seven from the same class, that's pretty impressive."

Fansler says there was a common denominator amongst the "Sporty Seven."

"I had a lot of those kids on the basketball or volleyball teams I coached, or in gym class, and I just remember the biggest thing about them was that no one wanted to lose," Fansler said. "They were all about going that extra mile to make sure their teams won. They were gym rats. They just wanted to play."

Turner remembers that competitiveness, too, particularly with the basketball team. He and Dolan were starters in eighth grade.

"We took that team pretty seriously, maybe too seriously," Turner said with a laugh. "Even though it was just eighth grade basketball it meant a lot to us at the time and we just had this competitive edge. We didn't want to lose.

"I think at a young age, it's hard to tell exactly what kind of an athlete a kid will be someday in high school, because there's still so much growing to do and a lot changes. But I do think you can tell a lot about how competitive a young kid is and how much he wants to win and if he sets goals. That doesn't change as a kid gets older."

The 6-foot-3, 235-pound Turner, a tight end for the Corsairs, says that his good habits regarding sports started forming during his time at Sandburg.

"I started working out a lot at a young age and I think that put me ahead of a lot of kids," Turner said. "Weights, sprints, you have to work out hard if you want to be good and I was doing that early on.

"But I didn't play football in middle school. My first year was freshman year in high school. In middle school, I was all about exploring different things, finding out what I wanted to do. I think that was a good decision."

In middle school at Sandburg, Bartz found the courage to make a decision that altered her path in life significantly.

"I was a cheerleader for a long time," Bartz said. "That's what my sister did, so that's what I did. I remember going to my brother's baseball games and thinking that was cool and my mom used to tell me that we should sign me up for softball.

"But I was too nervous, until finally, right around middle school I signed up. In eighth grade, I was still learning the game, but I was really finding a love for it.

"If I could change anything about myself back then, I wish I had told myself to try softball sooner."

Bartz eventually started playing in-house Mundelein Little League with a few of the other "Sporty Seven." She says it's funny to think about how far she and the others have come since then.

A couple of weeks ago at a special ceremony at Carmel, Bartz sat alongside Turner to sign her letter of intent to Northwestern, where she will be an outfielder and base-running specialist. Her family also beamed for Johnson when he signed, since Bartz's mom and Johnson's mom are best friends.

"I think Mundelein sports tend to be very community-oriented," Bartz said. "In middle school, you never thought about how good people might be in high school, but it's really pretty cool to see what's happening with this. It is probably pretty rare."

Perhaps rare enough that some documentation or recognition (other than this story) might be in order.

"You know, we were just talking about that at school," Fansler said. "We'd like to start a program where we get former students of ours who are successful to come back and talk to our current students.

"We're really proud of our kids, and we try to follow them as they move on and keep track of them and recognize them as much as possible. And what's happening with (the "Sporty Seven") is really great."

Follow Patricia on Twitter: @babcockmcgraw

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