1. Hall’s Lule collapses, dies
On Aug. 8, Hall High School was struck with tragedy.
During an afternoon practice on the first day of fall sports practices, Hall junior football player Daniel Lule collapsed during drills and later died at St. Margaret’s Hospital in Spring Valley.
An autopsy revealed Lule died of an enlarged heart.
The death of the 17-year-old rocked the city and the Illinois Valley.
“He was a great kid,” first-year Hall coach Randy Tieman said on Aug. 10. “(He was) tough, a hard worker. He never missed a day in the weight room. He worked his butt off all the time. He was a fun kid, a friend of everyone. He wasn’t with one particular group. He hung out with everybody. He had a great smile.”
The Red Devils canceled their Thursday practice while players underwent counseling.
The next day, the team returned to practice, and later that night a walk to the Lule house was held in Daniel’s memory. Nearly 1,500 students and community members attended the event.
At its Red & White Scrimmage on Aug. 17, Hall held a moment of silence for Lule. It also warmed up in the shape of a “D” and “L” and left “62” — Lule’s jersey number — on the scoreboard during the entirety of the scrimmage. T-shirts also were sold honoring Lule with the proceeds going to the family.
To honor its fallen teammate during the season, the Red Devils wore a “DL” patch on the left shoulder of theirs jerseys and wore stickers with the number “62” on the back of their helmets.
Hall also created the Daniel Lule Award, which was given to a football player who, like Lule, most clearly exemplified devotion to his sport through diligence in offseason preparation and in his dedication and discipline during the season.
2. La Salle-Peru baseball finishes second at state
Despite shake-ups and controversy surrounding the team (See story No. 3), the La Salle-Peru boys baseball team found solace this spring on the ball diamond. Free from all the distractions swirling outside the chalk lines, the Cavaliers put together the best season in program history with a 34-7 record and a second-place state finish in Class 3A.
The Cavs, who claimed the Northern Illinois Big 12 West Division title, entered the postseason on a nine-game winning streak and continued to roll in the state series as pitching and defense fueled their run.
L-P held both Kankakee and Streator scoreless en route to the Class 3A Metamora Regional title.
That trend continued at the Cavaliers’ home L-P Sectional where they shut out both Geneseo and Galesburg for to a berth to the Class 3A Augustana Super-Sectional.
L-P outscored its first four postseason foes 32-0 to make its way to the Elite Eight in Class 3A.
The postseason streak of 29 scoreless innings was broken by Burlington Central in the Cavs’ super-sectional appearance, but the lone run managed by BC couldn’t stop the L-P boys from a runaway 10-1 victory and the program’s second trip to state in four years.
In Joliet, L-P punched its ticket to the Class 3A championship game with a 5-2 win over Troy Triad behind starting pitcher and NewsTribune Player of the Year Mike Lynch before bowing out as runner-up with a 10-2 loss to Marian Catholic in the title game.
“For us seniors, the only thing more we could ask for was to win, but getting second in state for coach — for everyone — is just awesome,” L-P senior first baseman Levi Ericson said.
3. La Salle-Peru overhauls athletic staff
After LaSalle-Peru brought in an outside company in February to conduct an audit of the athletic department, changes started just a few weeks later.
Athletic director Greg Sarver was reassigned as a teacher after serving as an administrator for 13 years, including eight as the AD.
On May 9, the L-P school board replaced Sarver with former Northwestern University and Chicago Bears wide receiver D’Wayne Bates.
Less than a week later, after learning baseball coach Bill Booker and boys track and field coach Jake Burke would be dismissed, a group of students and other supporters held three days of protests outside the school leading up to the May 16 L-P school board meeting.
At the meeting, the board voted 6-1 not to rehire Booker and Burke to their head coaching and assistant football coaching positions despite more than 70 people in attendance to support the coaches. Both retained their teaching positions.
“We recognize that tonight’s recommendations and actions taken on the coaching status of Mr. Booker and Mr. Burke were very difficult decisions,” L-P superintendent Steve Wrobleski said in a prepared statement after the meeting. “It’s very evident that both men cared deeply about coaching. However, as a district we are moving in a different direction in our coaching philosophy and it’s our belief that these changes will allow us to move forward. I do wish to express my appreciation to Mr. Booker and Mr. Burke for their years of service to the athletic program at LPHS.”
Booker coached the L-P baseball team for 20 seasons, leading the Cavaliers to a 375-265-5 record, four regional titles, four sectional titles, a fourth-place finish in Class 3A in 2009 and a Class 3A runner-up finish weeks after he wasn’t rehired.
Burke coached at La Salle-Peru for 12 years.
Booker was replaced by long-time assistant Matt Glupczynski, while former Princeton assistant Marty Makransky took over the L-P boys track and field program.