It takes one to know one. In this case, a Neuqua Valley Wildcat.
When on March 6 the Indian Prairie School District 204 Board of Education approved Branden Adkins as successor to Neuqua's retiring athletic director, Barb Barrows, it apparently hired a like-minded individual.
"You could tell in the interview process he was a Wildcat at heart. He knew all about our programs, our coaches and our kids. That impressed all of us," Wildcats boys basketball coach Todd Sutton said of the 43-year-old Adkins.
Currently Plainfield East assistant athletic director and activities director, Adkins also started the Bengals' boys basketball program. His last game came Feb. 27 with a 68-49 loss to ... Neuqua Valley.
There's "a lot of irony" involved, Adkins said. In 2012 Plainfield East beat Neuqua Valley for the school's first regional title.
"I've always had a lot of respect for the building in general, and I've known Todd over the years and a number of other people, and I've also gotten to know Barb," he said. "I just had a lot of respect and admiration for everybody that's at Neuqua."
A 1991 graduate of Pekin High School who met his wife, Kristy, while studying physical education at Illinois State, this father of two is used to a full plate. Starting at Plainfield South in 2002, he was boys and girls soccer coach and a varsity boys basketball assistant coach.
"I was young then, had a lot of energy, didn't know better," Adkins said, jokingly.
After five years there Adkins worked the 2007-08 term as Glenbard North's athletic director. Tiring of the commute from south Plainfield (the family has since moved to Geneva) Adkins tackled his second startup project, Plainfield East.
Adkins "consistently was at the top of the list" of a process that winnowed down 50 initial applicants, Neuqua Valley principal Bob McBride said.
"We felt that Branden's extensive experience as teacher and coach combined with his years of experience in leadership in activities and athletics would prepare him well for the role of athletic director at Neuqua Valley High School," McBride said.
"He presented a clear vision for how he would approach some of the major challenges facing a new athletic director: hiring some important and soon-to-retire head coaches, maintaining our facilities and finances, and conference alignment."
Adkins said one of the most endearing things he's experienced is simply being referred to as "Coach." Given his career path he knew that chapter would come to an end. He'll soon focus on helping coaches while learning "the Wildcat way," he said.
"Just to get an interview, I was honored," Adkins said, "and to get the position, I just really appreciate the opportunity to be able to do so."
Unified in Peoria
Metea Valley competed in the first Illinois High School Association/Illinois State Unified Basketball Tournament, held last weekend inside the Exhibition Hall at the Peoria Civic Center.
Unified sports include players with and without intellectual disabilities on the same team, competing against other Unified teams. Teams advanced downstate out of four regionals, one of which was hosted by Metea Valley.
"It's the first year they've done Unified basketball, and the fact that we were one of the teams that were kind of well-developed and we had connections with Unified sports, they wanted us to hold a tournament here, and it was a great success," said Metea Valley special education teacher and case manager Michael Ackerman.
Coached by Ackerman and assistants Leonard Bogacki and Abe Duran, in Peoria the Mustangs topped Mt. Vernon 44-40 in the Division I semifinals, and lost to Homewood-Flossmoor 56-24 in the championship.
The Mustangs' Unified team included nine Special Olympics athletes and five peer partners: Austin Carson, Emma Constantine, Nicole DeCastris, Xavier Jimenez, Thomas Kuhn, Thomas McCabe, Emiliano Perez, Tyrese Pruitt, Fawad Qureshi, Ashley Smurawski, Abby Widd, leading scorer Sylvester Presley and captains Elena Burgoon and Marquise Rhodes.
From the school send-off breakfast to the IHSA's fine treatment to his players' gutty response to an H-F squad that was all kinds of good, Ackerman was impressed.
"I was fighting back tears when I was talking to them after the game," he said. "I was never more proud of them. They left it all on the floor."
Going out on top
It wasn't as easy as his first two titles, but earlier this month St. Francis graduate Alex Alcantara won his third straight Notre Dame Bengal Bouts boxing championship. Alcantara won at 135 pounds as a sophomore, at 144 as a junior and, by unanimous decision, at 146 this year.
"I'd say as far as my championship bout goes it was probably the most cardio I've had to extend of any of my other matches," said Alcantara, who initially trained with Larry Garstki at Krav Maga Illinois in Highland Park.
"Just hats off to the guy (Matthew Yoder) I was fighting," said Alcantara, 22. "I wanted to make it more of a boxing match and he turned it into a brawl and it sort of threw off my game."
The 2013 St. Francis graduate leaves the program with a record of 11-0. He may entertain future pugilism in venues such as Golden Gloves but is more concerned with using his impending finance degree.
Alcantara also gained the lasting impact of a trip to Bangladesh the summer before his junior year at Notre Dame. The Bengal Bouts have raised more than a million dollars to the Holy Cross Mission that helps impoverished people in that country.
"I joined the boxing program at Notre Dame because I wanted to learn more about boxing and I wanted to stay competitive. I wanted to do something that was more intense and required more training than just inter-hall sports. But it turned into more of me growing with the mission of the club in mind," Alcantara said.
Speaking of St. Francis ...
Retired West Chicago teacher and baseball coach Dan McCarthy read last week's winter "college achievers" column and, as the five-year assistant coach for the University of St. Francis women's basketball team in Joliet, noted their own achievements. Coach Samantha Quigley's Fighting Saints, ranked No. 1 nearly all season in NAIA Division II, went 21-0 in the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference and 34-2 overall. Aided by Glenbard South graduate Ivana Markovic, a sophomore guard who was one of four Saints to play in all 36 games, St. Francis advanced to the national semifinals before losing 64-56 to Marian University, which won its second straight title.
Speaking of honors, on Wednesday Waubonsie Valley graduate Jared Brownridge, a senior guard at Santa Clara University, was chosen as a first-team all-district selection by the National Association of Basketball Coaches. A three-time first-team West Coast Conference selection and the all-time leading scorer in WCC games, Brownridge finished as the Broncos' No. 2 all-time scorer and fourth in league history with 2,313 points.
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