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home : sports : sports   April 29, 2016

1/17/2013 11:22:00 AM
The better half

First-year St. Bede wrestling coach Sean Hobson wrestles with his daughters during a triangular meet earlier this season.NewsTribune file photo/Amanda Whitlock
+ click to enlarge

First-year St. Bede wrestling coach Sean Hobson wrestles with his daughters during a triangular meet earlier this season.
NewsTribune file photo/Amanda Whitlock

Marquette girls basketball coach Todd Hopkins yells out instructions to his team during Monday’s Tri-County Conference Tournament while his daughter, Hunter, yells “daddy” during the game.NewsTribune file photo/Amanda Whitlock
+ click to enlarge
Marquette girls basketball coach Todd Hopkins yells out instructions to his team during Monday’s Tri-County Conference Tournament while his daughter, Hunter, yells “daddy” during the game.
NewsTribune file photo/Amanda Whitlock

Below is a look at those interviewed for this story, sorted alphabetically:

The Coaches
Tom Keegan
The Hall coach keeps busy year-round.

Keegan has been the head cross country coach at Hall for 18 years and will enter his 13th year as Red Devils baseball coach this spring. During the winter, he has been the freshman boys basketball coach for 18 years.

Keegan has been married to his wife, Shelly, for 17 years, and the couple has two daughters, both of whom are in high school.

Jan Thompson
The Mendota boys basketball coach uprooted his life and family to move to the area in 2008 to take over the Trojans program.

Thompson, who starred on the men’s basketball team at Eastern Illinois University, has been married to his wife, Mandy, for six years. They had their first child over the summer.

Dawn Williams
The daughter of legendary St. Bede coach Don Carlson, the St. Bede volleyball coach first saw how her parents handled the balance as a kid before she experienced it herself.

In her 26th year as an educator, Williams has coached for 14 years but, on multiple occasions, has left coaching to be a mom and to tend to her family before eventually returning.

Williams has been married to her husband, Tom, for 20 years and has four children, one of whom is a student at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa.

Matt Winkler
The Fieldcrest boys basketball coach has experienced it all.

In his 21st-year as Knights coach, Winkler is an IBCA Hall of Fame member and has won more than 400 games in his career.

When Winkler started coaching, he and his wife, Julie, had a newborn son. Now, after 24 years of marriage, the couple has two kids in college, one of whom he coached.

The Spouses
Jen Garcia
The wife of Putnam County baseball coach and athletic director Dave Garcia, Jen has been married to her husband for eight years and the couple has two daughters.

Originally from the south suburbs of Chicago, Jen moved to the area when Dave became AD in 2005, and she is currently PC’s Panteras pom squad coach.

In addition to running the family during the busy school year, she also takes care of the family during the summer, during which Dave has spent the last four years coaching baseball in the independent Frontier League.

Mandy Thompson
The wife of Mendota boys basketball coach Jan Thompson, Mandy has experienced both sides.

After the couple moved to the area in 2008, Mandy also started coaching at Mendota, where she was the girls track and field coach and the cheerleading sponsor. She gave up both this fall after giving birth to her son over the summer.

Maureen Sassano
The wife of La Salle-Peru football coach Joe Sassano, Maureen agreed to move from Indiana to L-P with her husband and son Colby in 2007 while her daughter remained in the Hoosier state.

Joe Sassano finished his sixth season as L-P coach last fall.

Lisa Young
The wife of Princeton girls soccer coach Ed Young, Lisa has been with her husband for 27 years and has three daughters, two of whom have played soccer for their father, who is in his 13th year as PHS coach.

In addition to raising her family, Lisa was diagnosed with breast cancer in the spring of 2007 — the year PHS last qualified for state — and had surgery to remove the cancer weeks after she was diagnosed. Since her surgery, she’s been cancer-free for nearly six years.

Jared Bell
NewsTribune Sports Writer

Area coaches spend numerous hours with their programs.

From practices to games to workouts to summer sessions, coaches devote a large amount of their free time and lives to their teams while also juggling work and family.

It’s not always easy for spouses and families, who during the season often see their husbands, wives, fathers or mothers for only a few passing minutes — sometimes if that.

Recently, the NewsTribune talked to local coaches and spouses of coaches about what it’s like to try to coach a program while having a family and how they try to maintain the balance.

In all, the NewsTribune interviewed four area head coaches and four spouses of coaches from seven local high schools.

The NewsTribune asked those interviewed a wide variety of questions. Below are the highlights of what they said:

The Coaches’ Take
NewsTribune: What type of things does your spouse take care of?
Tom Keegan: “She takes care of all the real-world things. I’m not going to lie, all the major decisions, she makes them. I’m very fortunate that I have her because she is kind of the glue that keeps everything together, and that’s very common amongst all the coaches at Hall. You have to have a strong spouse.”

Dawn Williams: “He is taking care of dinner a lot of nights because I may be in practice, and we are always coordinating and juggling with each other on who is taking the kids to their events. He is so supportive of me coaching. Before he started working for the EPA, he was a teacher and a coach so he totally understands the demands of coaching and that if I’ve got to go, I’ve got to go. He picks up the slack without any problems.”

NewsTribune: How important is your spouse to your coaching success?
Jan Thompson: “She is very, very important in my coaching career. She is definitely the rock in the relationship and in our family. She’s the one who really has the level head, and I’m the one who tends to get excited about things and, to be honest, I’m probably the one who overreacts, as well. She is the one who usually says, ‘Hold on, relax. Let’s do this.’”

Matt Winkler: “She is very supportive (of me coaching) and is my best friend. She does whatever she can to help me be successful. You have to have a supportive spouse to be successful. She’s been great and a big help to my coaching career. I couldn’t be where I am at without her. That’s for sure.”

NewsTribune: Has your spouse had to calm you down or cheer you up after a tough game?
Dawn Williams: “Not really. I’ll come home, he’ll ask how it went and I’ll tell him. He kind of listens and I don’t know if it goes in one ear and out the other (laughs), but I try to keep it separate. I’ll bring home the excitement, but I try not to bring home the frustrations if I can help it.

Jan Thompson: “There are times when I’ll come home and I’ll be upset about something and she’ll talk to me, get me to relax and say to me, ‘We have a great family here and there’s a lot of other things that you should be happy about,’ and that often gets me in a good mood. And there are times we have tough losses, but I’ll come home and see my wife and son playing on the floor and it really makes my night a lot better.”

Matt Winkler: “As a coach, you have to leave that kind of stuff behind and not bring it home as much as possible. You can’t leave 100 percent of it behind, but I’m a different person at home and away from the basketball court.”

NewsTribune: Does your spouse ever offer coaching or strategy advice?
Matt Winkler: “All the time (laughs). She just keeps me grounded and makes sure I don’t look past any opponent. We talk about basketball all the time, and she is very knowledgeable of the sport and she offers things up. Sometimes I accept them and sometimes I don’t, but she knows what’s going on and it’s a help having her there. She is a great sounding board and I can bounce ideas off of her.”

Tom Keegan: “Not so much at Hall, but there was a time when I coached my daughter’s travel softball team and she’d chirp in to the point where sometimes I’d get text messages in the dugout.”

The Spouses’ Side
NewsTribune: How much time does your spouse’s sport(s) consume during the season and offseason?
Maureen Sassano: “During the season, he’s gone a lot and it’s an everyday job. Joe is very dedicated and probably leaves around 7-7:30 a.m. Monday-Thursday and probably doesn’t get home until 8-9 p.m. — and that’s assuming there are no meetings — and then he comes home and works. He’s lucky to get to bed by 11 p.m. or even midnight. Friday is different with games. If it’s a home game, I may see him briefly (in the afternoon), but Friday is typically a busy day for him until the game is done.”

Mandy Thompson: “He’s gone during the basketball season pretty much every night. Either he’s at practice or his games or scouting, so we don’t really see him much during the season. During the summer, I don’t really know yet. We haven’t made it that far with (our son) to really know.”

NewsTribune: What’s the most difficult part of having a spouse who is coach?
Lisa Young: “In the beginning, I was very excited about him coaching soccer and thought it was so cool, but the first couple of years were this huge learning curve of ‘Oh, I have to give up my husband and my time with him.’ In the beginning, to be honest, it wasn’t easy and it took a couple of years to get used to.”

Mandy Thompson: “Now when I look back at it and we were both coaching, it doesn’t seem that difficult, but now with our son it’s a whole different story. Before him, it was probably just that it was go, go, go all year long because we had three seasons of coaching.”

Maureen Sassano: “I would have to say the most difficult part is probably to see the dedication that he and all of his staff puts in, but that the win-loss record doesn’t reflect how hard they all worked. People look at the wins and losses, but wins and losses don’t always make up for a successful season. It’s also about the camaraderie (of the team), what they learned and how they’ve grown.”

NewsTribune: What’s it like to see your spouse succeed in his or her sport?
Jen Garcia: “I am probably one of his biggest supporters, so it makes me so proud to see what he’s done, not only with the baseball program but how he helped to build Massino Field (in Hennepin) and Jenkins Field (at the high school in Granville), then all the things he’s done as A.D. It’s a hard job, but seeing him be so on top of things, so organized and caring for the kids is great. He really puts his all into his job so I am really proud of him for that.”

Lisa Young: “It’s fantastic because I know Ed’s passion for the game is so deep. … Personally, I love to go watch as many soccer games as I can, and winning games is the icing on the cake. It’s also so exciting because you see everyone come together, even if it’s been a trying season because everybody wants the same thing. I think you see the community come together and, at the games at the end of the season, it’s shocking the people you see. People who had kids in high school five years ago come back. I’m glad he’s a coach. We’ve had a lot of fun.”

NewsTribune: Do you ever offer coaching or strategy advice?
Lisa Young: “Absolutely. Oh yeah (laugh). It’s funny because I’ve learned the game over all these years. I’m no expert, but we’ll go for pizza after the game and we’ll chat about it and actually have some pretty decent conversations about understanding the game. But, yeah, I do give him my insight. I can’t help it. I do offer my points of view.”

Maureen Sassano: “Never (laugh). I let him do his thing, and he knows his stuff. I’ve been around it all my life, but I am not a coach and will never try to be one. The only thing I will ever say to him is with our annual rivalry with Geneseo. I will tell him, ‘Please, beat this team.’”

NewsTribune: Have you encountered any funny situations or issues?
Jen Garcia: “When Putnam County finished third in the state (in 2008 when Dave Garcia assisted former PC coach Ken Jenkins), we were sitting in our living room watching TV and I heard noises outside after PC had won either the regional or sectional. I was like, ‘What the heck? Dave, there’s something going on outside.’ He said, ‘Oh, you’re just hearing things.’ And I was like, ‘No, there really is.’ All of a sudden I look out and the kids had the whole house toilet papered. There were kids running around everywhere. Dave went out and some of the kids stopped to talk to him, so they didn’t really do it right. You’re supposed to run away, not stop and talk (laughs).”

Maureen Sassano: “Last season, Zack Cinotto was our returning starting quarterback, but Colby was the backup who’d sometimes come in for the last few minutes of the game. Initially, Joe was very ginger with him and Colby was just handing off the ball. Well, a couple of my friends and I were talking and they said, ‘Tell Joe to let Colby pass the ball’ so my friends during the game are texting Joe saying, ‘Let Colby pass the ball.’ We kept on texting and you could see him look to his phone like, ‘What in the world? Who is texting me.’ We knew Joe wouldn’t answer but he got a kick out of it. Several games later, he finally let Colby pass the ball so we were all cheering.”

Jared Bell can be reached at 220-6938, or at Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsJared.

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