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Happy New Year!
West Chicago girls basketball coach Kim Wallner spent it as a freshly minted 400-game winner. She reached the landmark Dec. 23 with a 47-43 victory over Joliet Central at the Oswego East holiday tournament and followed that shortly with win No. 401, 40-38 over Aurora Central Catholic, also at Oswego East.
She's been West Chicago's coach for 28 years, in the program 30 years total, but she didn't lean on the adage most coaches spout after accomplishing a large career number -- that she's been around a long time.
Wallner brought up a corollary statement, always a good one -- it's all about the kids.
"I think the memories of the kids that have been in the program is probably what I take away," said Wallner, a guard on North Central College's 1983 national championship team and still its all-time leading scorer with 2,421 points. "Win or lose the kids always battled and gave their all."
It's enough of a bond that three of her former players from the 1990s -- Amy Barnes, Robin Westrom and Michelle Ratinchuk -- returned to see the Wildcats play on Dec. 20 against South Elgin.
"There is some tradition there," Wallner said.
The coach mentioned the positive of having committed assistant coaches, people like Tom Rivan, the father of 1980s players Jennifer and Rebecca Rivan; and more recently Wayne Kosek. She also mentioned Patrick Woods, now the head boys coach at St. Charles East, who as an assistant coach helped West Chicago win its sole DuPage Valley Conference title in 2001, twice beating Naperville Central with freshman Candace Parker.
"We've always had a lot of quality kids, quality parents, quality families and quality coaches that I've worked with. It hasn't been just me, it's been a lot of things," Wallner said.
She admits that 500 wins is a goal, because she's a competitor. She didn't think she'd be at West Chicago this long as it is and appreciates the administrative support she's received and a school community she enjoys.
West Chicago's move to the Upstate Eight Conference brings its own set of challenges in opponents the Wildcats face, but that's secondary to Wallner's prime directive.
"To me, whether you win a lot of championships or not, I think success is working with young people and bringing something to the table for them to have success in their lives," she said.
Vacation just got shorter
The Illinois High School Association announced on Wednesday that 11 proposals were approved by IHSA member schools in online voting last month. Among them is one that allows football practice to start two days earlier, an answer to the acclimatization policy the IHSA started last season. That means the 2014 season will start Aug. 11 rather than Aug. 13.
The upper 90
Maybe it's a huge numbers crunch, but in December the National Soccer Coaches Association of America listed its 2012-13 High School Team Academic awards.
Hinsdale Central coach Mike Wiggins' boys team won honors for a seventh straight season, accruing a cumulative combined 3.75 grade-point average for the last academic year. (If memory serves, Red Devils coach Corky King's boys swim team did the same thing last year.)
On the girls side, Neuqua Valley coach Joe Moreau's Wildcats also gained acknowledgment by the NSCAA. The Wildcats combined for a 3.53 GPA over the 2012-13 campaign.
Neuqua and Hinsdale Central were among only 10 teams in Illinois and 388 nationwide to earn the NSCAA honor in 2012-13. Lake Forest was the sole Illinois high school to land both girls and boys soccer teams on it.
This just in
Off the desk of boys swim coach Kevin Auger at Evanston, site of the state finals, the latest boys swim rankings include Metea Valley at No. 5, Hinsdale Central at No. 6, Naperville Central at No. 12 with Neuqua Valley among the "best of the rest." Augur rates Libertyville as the top team.
This Saturday at Oak Park-River Forest is the annual Illinois Track and Cross Country Coaches Association clinic, and with it the ITCCCA awards luncheon.
We reported previously that the wonderful Wheaton North assistant coach Jim Martin will be among seven new inductees into the association hall of fame.
Also feted will be female athlete of the year Maddie Perez of Glenbard West and a slew of local coaches in both track and cross country.
Coaches of the year include: Glenbard South's Mark Tacchi for Class 2A girls track and his throws coach, Ryan Crissey, winner of a Dave Pasquini Assistant Coach of the Year honor; Lake Park's Jay Ivory as Class 3A boys coach of the year for the four-time defending state champs; Hinsdale Central cross country coach Jim Westphal in Class 3A; Glenbard West's husband-and-wife team of Paul (Class 3A girls cross country) and Kelly Hass (girls track); and Neuqua Valley's Michael Rossi as another Pasquini winner.
Finally, Wheaton's Max Akerman will receive one of ITCCCA's Distinguished Service Awards. The veteran track official works great with prep athletes (and reporters), is always smiling, and in his downtime can be found at Cougars baseball games.
On Dec. 19, in a dual match against Neuqua Valley at Parkside Lanes in Aurora, Waubonsie Valley senior Rachael Felton bowled a 300 game.
It was the third 300 game for a Warrior in the past two seasons, as fellow senior Julia Bond, committed to Nebraska, twice rolled a perfect game in the Warriors' state championship season last year. Somewhat amazingly given the scholarship opportunities involved, Felton will not be bowling in college, instead focusing on business studies at Carthage College, according to Waubonsie's Marty Miller, coach of the state's No. 1 girls team.
Felton, 24th individually in state last season behind Bond and returnee Sara Barsotti, started feeling the heat in the seventh frame, Miller said. He tried to be "her calming voice."
"If you look at her she's as cool as a cucumber. But no," he said.
"By the time you get your first one (perfect game), in the 10th frame you can't feel your legs anymore," Miller said. "The closest thing to a 300 game is a no-hitter in baseball. There's no tension with a hole-in-one (in golf). You shoot the ball and it goes in the hole."
Felton came through without a hitch, topping the eight straight strikes she rolled Dec. 7 at Cherry Bowl in Rockford.
Though the opponent was Waubonsie's ace rival, the Neuqua Valley contingent was on Felton's side as she scattered the pins and the perfecto approached.
"When that happens everybody's pulling for you," Miller said. "And they all applauded her. Everyone demonstrated the good sportsmanship you would expect."
Follow Dave on Twitter @doberhelman1