Coach: Northridge Prep a 'hidden gem' for high school hoops fans
One of the occasional themes of this column in the past has been "hidden gems" -- great things, people, places or programs often not known to the large majority. Those that fly under the radar, if you will.
With today's column, let's add another bit of signage to that "hidden gem" banner by recognizing Northridge Prep High School and its boys basketball program. This small, private boys school, located just outside Glenview's borders in a beautiful but quietly tucked away part of Niles, has produced some of the finest basketball teams in the area year in and year out.
Consistently winning over an extended period of time with a total school attendance of under 200 is no easy task, but the Knights have done just that. This year's team is no exception, cranking out (as of this writing) another winning season with a sparkling 18-9 record, 9-0 in conference play in the Independent School League.
Their recipe for success? Simple. Take one well-known, highly experienced coach, throw in some dedicated players and a supportive school administration, and then add just a dash of parental support and -- voila! The formula for long-term success.
The one constant, and the guy who is the straw that stirs the drink, is head coach and athletic director Will Rey. A longtime, highly respected basketball coach well before taking a lark on coming to the small school in Niles almost two decades ago.
Rey signed on the dotted line in 2004, after already putting in some 30 years of coaching at both the high school -- Gordon Tech (now DePaul Prep), Crete Monee and Fenwick -- and the college levels -- Evansville, Loyola Chicago, St. Mary's and Wright State.
How he even came to Northridge Prep after all those stops is a story of chance in rather large proportions.
"I had an offer at the time from a large suburban school and was all set to go there," Rey said. "But, just by pure chance, I happened to be at a retreat in Indiana and a gentleman I met there told me about the school, which I had never heard of. He said they were looking for a new boys basketball coach. Something about him and the opportunity appealed to me, and my wife and I and family decided to check it out."
That "gentleman" turned out to be Glenview resident John Kestler, a longtime teacher and coach at Northridge Prep.
Kestler recalls the meeting and his experience with Coach Rey:
"Never knew him before meeting him at the retreat, but we discovered later on that we actually grew up just six blocks from each other, so we probably crossed paths as kids many times.
"Will has been a phenomenal asset here at Northridge Prep," Kestler continues, "not only just being a great teacher and technical coach, but more importantly how much the kids love him and how much he cares about the kids and their overall well-being."
The Glenview connection to the Northridge Prep team does not end with John Kestler.
Numerous players from our towns have played major roles in Northridge Prep's on-court success, including Sean Flood, a Glenview resident and 2021 graduate, who hadn't even played much basketball until entering the high school.
"Basketball wasn't really in my plans when I went to Northridge Prep, but I decided to give it a try," said Flood. "To be honest, in the beginning I couldn't walk and chew gum on the basketball court. But I had a growth spurt in high school, started to like the game and really developed my skills under the tutelage of Coach Rey." Flood went on to be a second-team all-stater.
Another Glenview resident who played and starred for Northridge Prep was Owen Coleman, who played in his younger years at Our Lady of Perpetual Help and Attea Junior High.
"It was the perfect basketball experience for me," said Coleman, who graduated in 2022. "Coach Rey was such a great mentor, just an amazing guy who I really enjoyed playing for. He always emphasized supporting your teammates and overcoming obstacles, and his persona really trickled down through the entire basketball program."
Coleman, another second-team all-stater, followed in the footsteps of dad Chris, who also played for the Knights. Brother Linus is now a sophomore in the program.
A trio of brothers from Glenview -- Nick, Mike and Alex Bobrinskoy -- also competed for the Knights in recent years. Their dad, Charlie Bobrinskoy, has seen the effect of Coach Rey up close and personal for many years.
"For our small school, to get a man the stature of Will Rey was a real get," said Bobrinskoy. "He is a great fundamentals coach -- our kids always played above the levels of their physical talent -- and, most importantly, he is a man of wonderful character teaching the right values to our kids."
The accolades are well-deserved. Talking to Rey about the program, I could truly feel his love for the school and the kids he coaches.
"It has been a wonderful experience; 19 years and I have loved every bit of it," Rey said. "We have great kids who are willing to work hard -- not just during the season but in the summer as well. And we have great support from our administration and from our parents. It's a total school commitment and just makes it a pleasure to coach here."
The family atmosphere within the school and the basketball program was really called into action in recent years.
"My wife passed away three years ago, and I could not have made it through that experience without the support of the Northridge Prep family," Rey said. "They were there for me and my kids every step of the way."
Rey's son Rob, who played for Northridge back in 2010 and still holds the 3-point shooting record for the school, now teaches social studies at the school and is one of his dad's assistant coaches.
This year's team will be entering state tournament play in a few weeks and trying to wrap up yet another conference championship.
"It was unexpected this year," Rey said. "We only had one returning starter, captain Jonah Fairbank, so everyone thought we might have a down year. But the kids have really stepped up and Jonah along with co-captain Timmy O'Toole have led us all along the way."
The school under Coach Rey has won numerous regional titles (including last year) and has made it to the Sweet Sixteen twice. Can this year's team keep the surprising season alive?
That's still to be determined, but it has been another year of winning as the program continues its remarkable streak of consistent excellence.
So, after coaching almost 50 consecutive years -- without a break for even one year -- and now 19 seasons at Northridge Prep, is it maybe time for coach to take a break?
That would be a hard no. Coach Rey says he still enjoys it and, as long as his health holds up, he plans to continue coaching for a long time to come.
Oh yeah. A hidden gem, indeed.
• Jon Cohn of Glenview is a coach, retired PE teacher, sports official and prep sports fan. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.