For years, I just assumed Martensdale St. Mary’s (IA) was a small Catholic school with stellar baseball, bolstered by a non-boundaried policy that allowed players to drive from miles away to join a successful program.
I was wrong.
In the midst of following a winning streak building off a 43-0 state championship run in 2010, I learned that it’s Martensdale-St. Marys, and that it isn’t a private school at all. It’s a consolidated school with rural boundaries that include the town of Martensdale (pop. 459*) and St. Marys (pop. 127.*). Perhaps had I bothered to note that their mascot was the “Blue Devils,” I likely could have concluded they weren’t a school of religious influence pretty quickly.
(Bloomington, IL – May 19, 2011) – By the time he threw his first pitch, he’d already prepared the mound for play, something that’s become a regular task for him. This was the start of Jason Pankau’s night, one that would end with a thrilling 3-2 victory on a 1-6-3 double play with two runners on in the 9th inning.
Head coach Dennis Martel was still two blocks away when he heard the final out on the radio and rambled onto the field as the post-game handshakes were concluding. Driving most of the day after attending the funeral of his mother-in-law three state’s away, it was a comforting and fitting ending to Illinois Wesleyan’s first round game in the NCAA Division III Central Regional. He joined his team and engaged them in a “group hug” – quietly celebrating their victory and looking forward to tonight’s matchup.
As a fan, it’s easy to embrace the success the Titans have experienced of late, including the first-ever national baseball championship by a CCIW team in 2010.
Update: Illinois-Springfield Athletic Director Rodger Jehlicka submitted his resignation, effective August 15, 2011.
I didn’t have the heart to ask him what he was thinking, feeling. I just told him I loved him and wished him well.
My investment in the program is only six years old, but seeing Milton Tennant watch the final seconds wind off the clock in the final game of his 25th year as a soccer coach at the University of Illinois-Springfield, I can only imagine the memories that were flying through his head.
Milt is the third coach to retire from a school and team that was once a soccer juggernaut in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), winning national titles in 1986, 1988 and 1993. After Aydin Gonulsen and Joe Eck, he is the final remnant from that incredibly successful staff.