2016-'17 Season Coverage
updated: 2/8/2017 11:00 PM

An accidental coach, Harris became a Naperville legend

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  • Naperville Central assistant coach Alan Harris looks at a roster during a recent girls basketball game.

      Naperville Central assistant coach Alan Harris looks at a roster during a recent girls basketball game.
    Paul Michna | Staff Photographer

  • Appetite for SoccerBook by Tony Kees

    Appetite for SoccerBook by Tony Kees

 
 

Alan Harris' parents had no use for sports, he said. It was all academics for them.

Then, a twist of fate.

Growing up a Hoosier in Winamac, the seat of Pulaski County but still small-town Indiana, Harris' next door neighbor was a man named Joe Heath, who coached basketball at the local high school.

Harris was no athlete as a kid, he recalled, but something rubbed off.

Since he began instructing students in 1967 as a 20-year-old Indiana University grad at then all-male Culver Academy an hour south of Notre Dame, Harris' winning personality, teamwork and, yes, academics and analysis resulted in a decorated, 50-year coaching career.

"I consider myself just an average coach who worked hard," said Harris, his membership in two halls of fame standing in contrast.

Starting in 1978 as a freshman football coach and part-time social studies and English teacher, the bulk of his career has been as a girls soccer coach at Naperville North and as an assistant girls basketball coach at both Naperville North and Naperville Central.

"When I started I was young, I didn't have a goal for a certain number of years," said Harris, 70. "When I got into coaching and it was 30, 35 years, I felt relatively healthy, I still enjoyed it. Fifty (years) became a logical stopping point. Then I started joking, I was going to do 50 or until I got it right, whichever came first."

That is funny. He got it right three decades ago.

Harris said he knew nothing about soccer when he began coaching it in a four-year stint at Wheaton's long-gone Midwest Military Academy from 1972-77, but as Naperville North girls coach Harris won 339 games, the girls state record when he relinquished the position.

His tenure from 1982-2001 included the 1988 state championship and trophies in three of his last four seasons. Harris was inducted into the Illinois High School Soccer Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2002.

Harris' start in Huskies soccer arrived with some controversy. In the spring of 1981, Harris' third year there, there was discussion of adding a third level to the boys program. Girls argued for their own team, Harris said, and after both factions attended the same board meeting then-athletic director Neil McCauley sided with the girls and named Harris coach.

For most of his time as Huskies girls soccer coach, Harris also served as junior varsity basketball coach under another hall of famer, Dale Shymkewich, helping the varsity go downstate in 1983 and 1988.

When Shymkewich retired in 1998 Harris went across town to assist Naperville Central girls basketball coach Andy Nussbaum, right-hand man on teams that won the 2003 and 2004 Class AA titles.

"I was very fortunate to be around when Candace (Parker) was around," said Harris, who nonetheless earned induction into the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2005.

In a ceremony before Naperville Central's Feb. 4 girls basketball game against Wheaton North, Harris and fellow longtime program assistant Nick DiGiovanni were recognized for their decades of service. The retiring DiGiovanni, a science teacher, joined the Redhawks as girls sophomore coach in 1988 and has remained in that capacity ever since.

Thursday's regular-season finale at Lake Park will be both coaches' last time on the bench. DiGiovanni's sophomore season ends; the varsity moves into the playoffs, but unless it's a long run Harris will be in Disney World on a family trip -- Harris didn't plan it, he noted -- with his wife, Deb, and the families of their two daughters, Sara and Meredith. Alan and Deb have two granddaughters with a third on the way.

Harris still plans to run the clock for Naperville North home boys and girls soccer games. Regardless of where one stands -- North or Central -- that's a good thing.

"I've coached most sports, boys, girls, junior varsity, lower level," Harris said. "Every team I've coached has been undefeated because I don't count losses."

Kees to better soccer

Tony Kees has been part of the Illinois soccer landscape since he played on Elk Grove High School's first team in 1976.

"I wanted to try this new game," he remembers thinking.

Now Kees has written an instructional book for players ages 12-16 (and their parents), "Appetite for Soccer: Jumping Levels in the Game ... By Design."

Kees obviously developed vast expertise in the sport between his senior year in high school and writing this 122-page book.

He coached 25 years at Conant, 21 as head coach, three years at Elk Grove and three more at Neuqua Valley.

In 2009 Kees led the Wildcats boys to a 28-1 record, winning the Pepsi Showdown, Best of the West, the Upstate Eight Conference and advancing unbeaten until eventual Class 3A champion Lyons Twp. nipped the Wildcats 1-0 at the Benedictine University supersectional.

Kees in 2007 was named coach of the year by both the Illinois High School Soccer Coaches Association and the Illinois Youth Soccer Association. He led three Olympic Development Program boys teams to national titles and coached the Chicago Fire Academy Under-16s to another. As assistant director for the Chicago Fire Academy from 2009-13 his job was to produce professional players.

Kees now is in a business partnership with Step Ahead Sports, a coach with the Sockers FC Academy and is a personal trainer. Throughout, players and parents have sought similar advice: What can they do to reach the next level.

"If I have to answer that question 'X' number of times a year, why don't I write a book?" Kees figured.

"Really it was just having accumulated knowledge. It just felt right to start to share some of the ideas I've had in player development and also in navigating an increasingly complex competitive soccer environment."

He said "Appetite for Soccer" is geared toward advanced players who wish to maximize their "gifts" to attain higher club or college opportunities. The book includes interviews with Orlando City SC defender Jonathan Spector, of Arlington Heights, and Elk Grove's Jen Buczkowski, a former national team member who starred in the National Women's Soccer League until retiring last May.

It's not simply a reading exercise. A workbook offers sheets to be downloaded so players can journal and set goals to "take stock" in their development.

"They get to know themselves even before they start this journey," Kees said.

As to his own journey, perhaps "Appetite for Soccer" has paved a new road.

"People that know I wrote the book are asking me about book number two," Kees said.

doberhelman@dailyherald.com

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