Coming 'home' to coach one reason MSL is so unique
Joe Pardun grew up watching Rolling Meadows football games.
Then he played football at Fremd, where his head coach was Mike Donatucci.
Now, Pardun is the head coach at Hersey and one of his assistant coaches is Donatucci, the legendary former Fremd coach who won 137 games in 19 years and made 16 straight playoff appearances.
Matt Mishler played his high school football at Hoffman Estates. His head coach was Jim Rucks.
Now, Mishler is the head coach at Rolling Meadows and one of his assistants is Rucks, who was the head coach at Hoffman for 26 years.
Strange, you say?
Maybe, but not to them. And, not so strange if you're MSL born and bred as Pardun and Mishler are.
"My dad taught at Meadows for 25 years and was the head swimming and track coach so I grew up at Rolling Meadows football games. Then I got to play for coach Donatucci at Fremd. And, half of my staff is young guys who have played for me. To have former players and former coaches coming back like this is kind of neat," said Pardun, who will lead his 7-0 Huskies up against also 7-0 Meadows on Friday night, a game in which the winner will likely secure the Mid-Suburban East title, as long as they don't stumble in Week 9.
It's not that the MSL is the only conference where former players come back to their roots to coach. In my many years of covering high school football in the Fox Valley I can think of a few coaches who came back to coach either at their alma mater or within the same conference.
But as I've begun to stroll the practice fields of the MSL it's hit me that this conference is pretty unique in many ways, and the number of head coaches and assistants who played in the MSL and are now coaching in the league is just one of those factoids that tell you how unique the MSL is.
Pardun and Mishler are two of six head football coaches in the MSL who played their high school ball at MSL schools. Barrington's Joe Sanchez played at Wheeling, as did Wheeling's current head coach, Brian Hauck. Elk Grove head coach Miles Osei played at Prospect and Fremd head coach Lou Sponsel is now leading the program he once played for.
"I just think it all goes back to the experience you have when you play high school football yourself and the coaches you had that made an impact on your life," said Mishler, now in his eighth year as the head coach at Meadows. "Coach Rucks has meant a lot to me in my life.
"One of my best friends who I played football with at Hoffman, Jeremy Harkin, is now my defensive backs coach. I just think it's a lot about that experience you had and how fond you are of it as a young man and that kind of molds you."
It also speaks volumes to the geography of the MSL. In taking a drive to Heritage Park in Wheeling Tuesday for Hersey's practice, I drove past Buffalo Grove, Wheeling and Hersey high schools -- all in about a 16-mile round trip from our Arlington Heights office. You don't find so many high schools so close to each other in many areas of the state, outside the city of Chicago, like we have here in the Northwest suburbs.
"It says something about our schools and our communities," said Pardun of the MSL coaching fraternity. "There's a lot of pride here. We want to raise our families here.
"You've got all these stories but that's what makes it fun. It always feels like it's home and even if it's not your crosstown rival it still feels like it. It's pretty neat."
Big week: Yes, Week 8 is a big one. In addition to the Hersey at Meadows game, which we will dive more into online Thursday night (football.dailyherald.com) and in Friday's print editions, there are several other games with playoff implications on the line.
•While the MSL East title basically comes down to Friday's Hersey-Meadows game, Buffalo Grove, Prospect and Wheeling are still in the playoff picture. BG (4-3) plays Elk Grove and Meadows to close the season. The Bison have 32 playoff points right now, meaning at 5-4 they could be on the bubble. Prospect and Wheeling, meanwhile, are both 3-4 and will need to win out for playoff consideration, meaning Friday's game between the Knights and Wildcats is basically a playoff game -- winner stays alive, loser looks to next year. In Week 9, Prospect plays Elk Grove and Wheeling takes on Hersey. Both Prospect and Wheeling enter Friday with 33 playoff points so they should be in OK shape at 5-4.
•The MSL West is up for grabs, and I mean way up for grabs. Conant has its destiny in its own hands at 3-0 in the division and 5-2 overall. If the Cougars win out against Palatine and Hoffman, they head to the playoffs 7-2 and a conference champ, meaning they could get a playoff game. At 6-1 overall, Hoffman is the only team in the West that has clinched a playoff spot. If the Hawks win against Fremd Friday night and Conant beats Palatine, it sets up a Week 9 battle for the title between the Cougars and the Hawks. Fremd (3-4) will need to win out against Hoffman and Schaumburg and if they do the Vikings will be in as they have 39 playoff points already. Barrington, at 4-3 and with 40 points, needs one win to get in. The Broncos have Schaumburg Friday night and Palatine in Week 9. And Schaumburg (4-3) will likely need to beat both Barrington and Fremd to get in as the Saxons enter Week 8 with only 31 points.
The West situation, above all, is what makes this time of year in high school football so much fun.
So get out and enjoy a game, and then buy the Daily Herald, or go to football.dailyherald.com to get the most complete coverage you'll find anywhere.