Glenbard South to remember Barton, Smith
After a hard summer Glenbard South's football team won't lack for motivation.
On June 9 Jerry Barton passed away at 73. He was the Raiders head football coach from 1989-2003 as Glenbard South transitioned from the DuPage Valley Conference to the now-defunct Suburban Prairie Conference.
The records during those 15 years indicated the football program's struggle as a smaller school battling bigger ones, until the Raiders found success playing a more manageable schedule. Barton led Glenbard South to the playoffs four of his last five seasons there.
Win or lose, Barton greeted people with twinkling eyes, a smile and a chuckle, a Raiders ball cap riding a crop of curly hair. Not that he quite had the girth for it, but he would have made a perfect Santa.
"He was a happy guy," said Bill Leensvaart, Glenbard South's principal from 1994-2007. "He was a very positive guy with the kids and with the staff. I really appreciated the positivity."
Current Glenbard South football players may not have felt Barton's charms but were certainly saddened by the July 29 passing of varsity assistant coach John Smith.
"It was such a shock to the system," said head coach Ryan Crissey.
A University of Dubuque Hall of Fame inductee in basketball and football capable of delivering a 30-yard spiral at age 72, Smith sent children Nancy, Mike and Chris through Glenbard South. After retiring as an executive at Fellowes Brands, he coached baseball, basketball and football at Glenbard South, mainly as a volunteer.
As a supportive parent, Leensvaart said, "He was as good as it gets."
Crissey called him a "voice of reason" on the staff and a champion of the student-athlete, particularly "kids on the fringe," Crissey said.
"There were times when he made sure kids had food on the table," Crissey said. He did so anonymously.
He was president of the board of the Central Baptist Village retirement community in Norridge, trustee emeritus at Judson University in Elgin. More than 600 people, including the entire Glenbard South football team, attended a celebration of his life Aug. 3 at Glen Ellyn's Village Green Baptist Church, where he'd been an usher and moderator.
Leensvaart said he could only hope to have a similar tribute; Crissey said, "It was the most uplifting thing I've ever been part of."
John Smith and Jerry Barton both will be acknowledged by a moment of silence before Glenbard South's first game Friday against Streamwood. The Raiders will wear "JB" helmet decals this season. A sideline flag will feature Smith's motto: "Be a leader, be kind, be humble."
Glenbard South also is planning to unveil a permanent memorial to Smith on Oct. 4. It'll go either near the football field or in the school. He influenced both.
"I learned from him," Crissey said, "what it means to be a servant leader."
What it's all about
Fenton football coach Matthew Lynch was familiar with the Shriners from his coaching days at Marengo. He became reacquainted when 2019 Bison graduate Kyle Cacioppo was chosen to play in the 45th Illinois Coaches Association Shrine All-Star Football Game in June in Bloomington.
It didn't stop there.
Lynch called the Shriners Hospital for Children in Chicago to see if he could bring some Fenton football players there for a visit. His request accepted, on July 30 some 65 Bison spent time playing Ping-Pong, air hockey and wheelchair basketball with the young patients. Of course they broke out a football and threw it around.
Now in his third year at Fenton, Lynch has made activities like this a staple of his football program.
"We get so wrapped up in our daily lives, and what we have and don't have, that we forget there is always someone out there going through something bigger than what you're going through. We don't always stop and pause to be grateful for what we have," he said.
"It costs you nothing to open your heart and to give it to other people. We're trying to instill in the young men to be grateful and gracious for what we have. Just the mere fact that we woke up this morning and took a breath is a blessing, and sometimes people forget that."
Some good news
St. Francis will play its four home football games this season at Wheaton College and drive or bus it to practice at Wheaton's Graf Park in the wake of chronic flooding that has rendered Kuhn Memorial Stadium unplayable.
The Spartans should be fitter when they unload. On Aug. 12 the school celebrated a ribbon cutting for its revamped fitness center, blessed by Fr. Max Behna of Wheaton's St. Michael Catholic Church. York also opened a new training facility.
"It looks like a college weight room," Spartans coach Bob McMillen said of the space, absent the chain-link fencing that lent the old room a cage-match vibe.
In fact the same company that provided flooring for conditioning facilities at Notre Dame, Purdue and Northwestern, among others, did St. Francis', which was privately funded by 13 families who raised more than $76,000.
Down the middle of the room is nearly 30 yards of lined, football field-like turf, McMillen's idea for speed and agility work. It's centered among dozens of squat and bench racks, treadmills, rowing machines, suspension trainers, all the dumbbells and whistles.
"There were a lot of wide eyes when (students) came back here and saw it," said Dave Haberman, St. Francis' Physical Education and Health Department chair. He noted it's the only room at school that serves all students, not only athletes.
While St. Francis leadership brainstorms and works with various governmental entities to try to solve the field's flooding problem, this is good news.
"We're really excited about this," said St. Francis President Betsy Ackerson.
Shawn Young called out of the blue one summer day. He wanted to share history that, except for those who made it, might dip below the radar.
This fall is the 40th anniversary of Wheaton North's 1979 Class 4A football championship season, the first state title by a DuPage Valley Conference team. West Chicago's Class 3A win in 1974, the inaugural football state series, came as a member of the Little Seven.
"We weren't that big at all," said Young, a running back and linebacker on that Falcons squad who nonetheless packed a wallop befitting his nickname, "Brawny."
"We had good quickness and we could run the ball. That's basically what it was, we weren't fancy at all," he said.
A lifelong restaurant man who bounces seasonally between Chicago and Florida, Young's mind is a steel trap for detail.
Things like beating Naperville Central and Naperville North by a combined score of 70-7, or trailing Simeon 14-0 18 seconds into Wheaton North's playoff opener on two fumbled kickoffs returned for touchdowns. Narrow wins over Glenbard South and West Chicago, otherwise "we could have gone 0-2" in the DVC, he recalled.
Conversation naturally drifted to late Falcons coach Jim Rexilius. Young credited Coach Rex for preparing his boys to know what was coming, and not just him but assistant coaches like Larry Fox, Jim Jordan and George Turnbull.
"They were all there when they had the 1972, 1973 undefeated teams," Young said. "He was the head of a real good coaching staff."
A couple days after the Brawny call we bumped into one of Coach Rex's sons, J.R. Rexilius. He put us in touch with John Flaherty, a senior tight end and linebacker on that 1979 team.
"It goes so fast. You just kind of look up and go, 'Hey, it's 40 years ago,'" said Flaherty, a teacher and coach at Burlington High School in Iowa.
Graduates off the 1978 team didn't expect much more than a .500 record from the 1979 squad, he said. When since-closed Forest View won the opener they had to be gloating. But the Falcons kept believing.
The turnaround, Flaherty said, came Week 4 when Marvin Carter's 34-yard field goal beat West Chicago 3-0.
"Every time we talk about Marvin's kick it gets longer and longer. I think it may be a 72-yarder now," Flaherty said.
Carter, who died in 2006 at 44, and offensive lineman Norm Reed are no longer with us. Flaherty keeps in touch with teammates such as Tom Hessling and Scott Gibson. He hopes to work with Wheaton North athletic director Matt Fisher to pull some sort of reunion together.
"I wouldn't say we were great friends, we didn't really hang out with each other," Flaherty said. "But once we got on the field it was business. And we respected each other."
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