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.
It was a Friday evening a couple weeks ago, but not an ordinary evening for me. I’ve tried to write about it previously, but some unplanned life occurrences have kept me away from the keyboard.
Still, it’s worth describing the scene – a high school football game where more people stand around the field’s perimeter than are actually registered in the town’s census-certified population listing.
Life in a small Iowa town.
The weekend is my 30th class reunion, a wonderful, shared event among three classes who joined forces in the planning, hoping for a better turnout than prior events.
Reading time: 4 minutes
The neighborhood wasn’t alluring in a touristy sort of way. Despite those including myself that flocked there in respect of one of the greatest Americans ever born, there were plenty of locals living a dream I would label a nightmare.
“Buy me a cheese sandwich, just one cheese sandwich,” she uttered.
I’m disappointed now that I didn’t hand her a couple dollars, instead choosing to stay part of our group and not get sidetracked by her request, or drawn into a conversation with a street vendor telling me why I should “support the neighborhood.”
The reality is he was right. I was in Atlanta to watch Illinois Wesleyan University’s men’s soccer team play in a tournament at Emory University. If you ever walk the campus of either university, you would understand that the word “privileged” isn’t a far stretch from the imagination.
I’m not suggesting the “silver spoon” variety. I know many of the parents that send their children to these schools are reliant upon financial aid, student loans and work study. I have been both a student and a parent reliant upon such assistance myself.
My dad was barely eight years old when the ball cleared the fence, but Bobby Thomson’s ‘Shot Heard ‘Round The World’ in 1951 was a moment that stayed with him his entire life, one that ended earlier this year.
For Thomson, he too died this past Monday, ironically in Savannah, Georgia where HE lived and I was married.
That fact really has no relevance other than, growing up and hearing about this home run over and over, I felt a connection to Thomson and his home run even though it predated my existence by ten years.
I was in row two for the opening game of the team’s existence, a 7-0 shellacking of the Evansville Otters in their historic Bosse Field. For the five of us that made the trip, it was an optimistic start to the return of professional baseball to Bloomington/Normal. With two additional wins to complete the weekend sweep, the Normal CornBelters’ first season in the independent Frontier League would start with significant momentum.
As of this writing, they now sit in fourth place in the Western Division (26-33), 18 games out of first and ten games out of playoff contention.
But wins and losses aren’t the topic here. I’m sure there must be growing pains for every franchise, and I would expect nothing different for the ‘Belters. As an occasional patron, I hope to see the franchise succeed, as it’s nice to have a summer entertainment alternative on those nights the CornBelters are at home.