Seasons for 1st-year coaches come to a halt
After 12 years serving as an assistant to Elk Grove baseball coach Terry Beyna, Steve Lesniak was looking forward to his first season as Grens varsity coach this spring.
Like so much else, those plans are on hold because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"It has definitely been a challenging first season, but not for the reasons I expected," Lesniak said.
It's the same story for Dan Jennings at Streamwood. After serving as the pitching coach the last eight years at Huntley under Andy Jakubowski, Jennings was set to debut leading the Sabres' program.
"I was ready or at least I thought I was ready," said Jennings, a 2006 Schaumburg graduate. "The in-game management, those decisions I was ready for that in terms of strategy and things like that. We had been doing things with open gyms and lifting since before Thanksgiving. I developed that relationship with those kids. I would obviously love to coach having a new program but I'd really like those guys to get out there and play."
Sean Senf is making his debut as the boys track and field coach at Downers Grove South.
Unlike the two baseball coaches, Senf was able to see his team in action during a few indoor meets.
Unfortunately, that just makes the way the outdoor season is playing out even more frustrating.
"The first word that comes to mind is upsetting," said Senf, who ran in high school at Maine South and college at Illinois State. "It's upsetting for me but I feel horrible for the kids."
Senf saw plenty of bright spots during the indoor season.
"Based off the prep top times list we were getting some guys start to get pretty good," Senf said. "I think if we had a chance to finish out the year it would have been a really positive one and it would have set the precedent to put more of coach Senf's spin on things as the years go on."
Lesniak played baseball at Prospect, Harper College and Illinois State.
That plus all the years working with Beyna led to plenty of excitement heading into the season -- which at this point stands at two weeks of practice.
"There are a lot of emotions associated with this season, and unfortunately they're not good," Lesniak said. "I'm definitely frustrated and saddened by this circumstance we are facing, not for myself, but for our kids, especially our seniors."
Lesniak has been staying in touch with his team through Zoom and a Schoology page. He's also using this experience to teach his players life lessons, emphasizing perspective.
"We all would love to be able to be out on the baseball field, but we can't dwell on these circumstances," Lesniak said. "I've been telling our guys that this adversity presents an opportunity for us to grow. We have to be grateful for our health and family. As a head coach, it is my responsibility to be a positive influence over our baseball program, and while that looks different this year, I still have ambitions of providing that to our players."
Scott DeCaprio, in his first year as varsity coach at Lake Zurich after three years as assistant, grew up on a baseball field, first as a bat boy at Lewis University. His father Dan was the pitching coach there for 25 years.
"The varsity players know this is something bigger than them and have handled it that way," said DeCaprio, a three-sport athlete at Lincoln-Way who received a baseball scholarship to SIUE and was part of the staff of Sandburg's 2002 state championship team. "My best memories of high school were the comaraderie that athletics built. The varsity team is also very deep, talent-wise, and we all have the belief that they could make it to state, which is very powerful. Personally, I just miss being around them. The highlight of my professional day is getting to work with such a great group of kids.
"While all of this is tough, the thought of anyone losing a loved one to COVID-19 outweighs any personal grief of not being out on the field. Anyone that is upset by it should just remember that people's lives are at stake. Stay home now so we can see everyone again sooner."
First-year coaches want to establish their culture quickly. Jennings said he's working on just that even in these most unusual of times.
He's also using social media to interact with his team.
"I'm active on Twitter putting out what kids send me swinging or throwing and put it on Twitter to get them their recognition," Jennings said. "I wanted not necessarily to do things my way but to have that relationship with kids and have that mainstay at a school with the senior class through freshmen and develop those relationships and develop the overall Streamwood baseball vibe in the community. Unfortunately we didn't get to play but I think we did a lot in the offseason to nurture that and grow it."