Dave Dunbar has been an integral part of the Wheeling football program for 25 years and is retiring after 11 years as the head coach.
Daniel White | Staff Photographer
The reality of the finality has been sinking in for Dave Dunbar.
Friday night will be the retiring Dunbar's final game in charge of the Wheeling football program. There will be a ceremony honoring him before the Mid-Suburban East home finale with Elk Grove and a postgame get-together for friends at Gator's in Palatine.
"A little. A little," Dunbar said Tuesday night if it was starting to hit him that he was approaching the end of 11 years as head coach and a quarter-century in the program at Wheeling.
"You try not to think about it too much but you can't help it. I've got family coming into town so I try to think about it in a good way.
"You reflect back and think about all the positives and good things. The players and coaches I've worked with have all been great."
And Dunbar has been great not only for Wheeling football but high school sports. A first-class act on and off the field in good and bad times.
"It was really enjoyable," Dunbar said. "I enjoyed the last 11 years. It wasn't always pretty and it took a lot of hard work but it was rewarding in so many different ways.
"Throughout the years, year after year, kid after kid worked hard and responded to coaching. And the coaching staff has been wonderful."
Dunbar wondered if his opportunity to be a head coach had passed after serving as an assistant at Plainfield and Rolling Meadows and then working for head coaches Rick Benedetto and Tom Harold at Wheeling.
When his chance at Wheeling came, a lot of coaches might have looked at things and taken a pass. Dunbar didn't even though the Wildcats had lost their last eight games before he took over and didn't win a game in his first three years.
A lot of coaches might have bailed out but Dunbar didn't. A lot of coaches might have felt a lot of heat but it was a reflection of him that he didn't.
A big reason for that was the support of assistant principal for student activities Steve May.
"Steve is awesome," Dunbar said. "Steve looked at, not the record, but the program and what direction it was going and are we doing the right things.
"I felt all along we were doing the right things and the program was moving in the right direction. The best thing in the early years was Steve talked to us and supported us and encouraged us so we could do the best we could year after year."
It was a wonderful scene when Wheeling finally got the streak-busting win to start the 2004 season. It was the start of a climb toward even bigger and better moments as it won a share of the MSL East title in 2007 and made consecutive playoff appearances.
"Those two years it all came together with the players and the coaches," Dunbar said.
While coaches are judged on their record it doesn't always accurately tell the entire story. Wheeling assistant coach and former player Brian Hauck said before this season that Dunbar's hard work is reflected in how he has built the program.
The numbers have been solid and stable and the team is competitive. The football field now has a new scoreboard, turf and lights.
And it will have been Wheeling's good fortune that Dave Dunbar was the face of the program when he leaves that field for the last time in that capacity Friday night.