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.
Illinois Wesleyan baseball coach Dennis Martel repeated over and over how unbelievable the Titans’ post season run was. I’m sure he must have housed a butterfly garden in his stomach, but you’d never know it on championship day.
Before the final game even started, he encouraged his players to appreciate the environment in which they were playing.
“Get out of the dugout, enjoy the moment, take a look around,” he told them.
“Look in the stands, create a memory.”
A short walk and survey of the crowd brought an observation by one of the Titan players that should have been clear much earlier.
“This must be a big game, our president is here boys,” he noted after seeing Illinois Wesleyan president Dr. Richard Wilson in the stands.
Must be a big game?
The bus is scheduled for a 7:30 a.m. departure, and everyone is early or on time. Some board with pillows in hand. As is true of many college campuses these days, most have an iPod or similar digital musical device. Twenty active players shared most of the thirty seats, along with one hobbled player in a protective boot, a trainer, two coaches and a soccer fan disguised as a photographer. That fan was me.
The opponent this day was Webster University, with a scheduled noon game time. The drive is 187 miles. This is the life of a Division III soccer player.
I would imagine the trade off between leaving earlier to arrive earlier is a tough decision for the coach. Waking in the six o’clock hour on a Sunday morning is early for most college kids, and it was for this fan as well. Continue Reading