CornerKICKS: State-championship coach blows opportunity to be true coach of the year

CornerKICKSJoe Trost, columnist

“Who said something to you about the junior varsity thing?”

Well, as I said to Barrington girls soccer coach Ryan Stengren after he asked me that question, it was kind of hard to miss when soccer officials, school leaders, parents and coaches were talking about his program sending its junior varsity team to play a varsity-scheduled conference match against Wheeling.

“You gotta talk to my AD about the schedule,” he said on Thursday. “I have nothing to do with it now.”

That may have been the first time Stengren has ever passed on answering a question in the decade-long time I’ve known him. He always has thoughts and also is never afraid to talk. Stengren calls or texts every coach after they play one of his upcoming opponents or conference teams.

Trust me, besides the sky being blue every single day, one thing you can take to the bank is a Stengren call.

Let me say this before I continue: I like Ryan. He’s engaged with his program; he’s a good coach; and his players and alumni love him. They should, because he truly is a good guy.

But on this matter, this is Stengren’s program. He’s the face of it – not Barrington athletic director Mike Obsuszt. When word spread about the Fillies doing that, the consistent question everyone asked was: “Why?”

It’s one thing if you know you have to play a junior varsity team, like Naperville Central did in the Plainfield North girls soccer tournament on Saturday because it didn’t have enough schools that wanted to join. And credit to Naperville Central coach Ed Watson, who navigated that undesirable situation with class by managing playing time for his starters and role players.

But to send a junior varsity team to a varsity match? Sorry – let’s be blunt and direct: It’s disrespectful to the opponent, disrespectful to the game. And if you think Barrington is the first conference school to dominate an opponent consistently in a high school sport, you need to do your research.

Over the past week, I’ve dug back to the late 1980s when the Illinois High School Association created the girls soccer state playoffs. I’ve talked to multiple coaches from different eras, ones I’ve known to have been in the same situation as Stengren.

Not once did they ever send their lower-level program to play a varsity match. Even his good friend, Eclipse Select director Rory Dames, whose wedding he stood in, didn’t do that during his dominating state-title runs at Saint Viator in the early 2000s.

“Never,” said Lyons Township Supt. Dr. Tim Kilrea, who built the Lincoln-Way girls soccer program into a state contender before retiring and handing the reins over to Brian Papa back in 1994.

Kilrea’s squad dominated schools in the old SICA West for years, with most games over quicker than Vince DiNuzzo’s season-opening coaching appearance on the St. Charles East bench this year.

Well, maybe not that quick, but you get the point.

“You treat your opponent with respect and you be professional,” Kilrea said. “In cases when we knew we were the dominant team, it provided our program with an opportunity to play different players, play them in multiple positions and try some new combinations. It also allowed us to bring up a few lower-level players to give them the varsity experience.”

Like most sports, there are talent gaps in girls soccer throughout Illinois. But when those moments present themselves, they’re teaching moments. That’s what a true coach of the year would do.

In recent years, we cheer and praise when we see the social media video of two teams allowing a player or two to score a special goal or basket in a game. We also should boo if a coach ever sends his junior varsity team for a varsity match.

It’s important to remember: One percent of players will go on to play professionally, but all 100 percent can go on and be leaders as future coaches and parents.

Here’s to hoping other coaches learn from one of Stengren’s few miscues and realize the power of sport provides growth and learning opportunities each and every day, game and season.

REMEMBER THIS NAME: East Aurora sophomore Edith Delgado. The 5-2 playmaker is full of energy, and someone you want to watch when the ball touches her feet.

SAYING GOODBYE: Jeff Brooke, one of the classiest and most humbled boys and girls coaches you will ever meet, will be walking away from high school soccer following the 2019 spring season.

The state championship coach, who is a 2002 graduate of Wheaton Academy, has been named the new associate head of school at Wheaton Christian Grammar School – a place he also once called home as a student.

DID YOU KNOW? Six of the 17 players on the Mother McAuley girls soccer team, coached by Denny Clanton, played for the Class 4A runner-up girls basketball team coach by Ashley Luke Clanton, Denny’s wife. Three of them were starters.

Both Denny and Ashley were standout athletes at Waubonsie Valley during their prep careers.

CornerKICKS will appear on Sundays. Contact Joe Trost at joetrost@gmail.com.

Bio on columnist: Joe Trost was an award-winning writer at Star Newspapers, Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Tribune and ESPN.com. Locally, he is a three-time statewide IHSSCA Media Person of the Year and founder of the PepsiCo Showdown, the largest high school sports series in the U.S.