Wheaton Academy athletes going to great lengths to Lead

Updated 5/2/2012 8:47 PM

Wheaton Academy's baseball game May 7 against Aurora Christian is not your normal game.

To be played at Elfstrom Stadium in Geneva starting with the sophomores at 4:30 p.m. and varsity at 6:30, it will serve as a fundraiser for Wheaton Academy's Project Lead (Leadership Education and Development), which branches into global, local and campus concerns.


Monday's fundraiser supports a global cause -- sponsoring 20 orphans in the small town of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, rocked by a January 2010 earthquake.

Wheaton Academy outfielder Mike Kuppler, second baseman Drew Sandberg and outfielder Karsten Hultgren are ballplayers affiliated with Project Lead. On Friday they're going to Aurora Christian to provide an overview of the project. Proceeds from concessions, collection stands and admission fees -- $5 for adults, $3 for students -- will go to "The Haiti 20," as Warriors coach Brad Byrne called them.

"It's kind of interesting," Kuppler said, "that a lot of people see high school people being in an awkward phase, kind of in the position where they're still learning but don't really know how to influence. I think it's really cool that a bunch of high schoolers are able to help out and raise a bunch of money in support of a community across the ocean and show the love of God to this community in Haiti."

This is the most recent major undertaking for Project Lead's global branch, which is led by boys soccer coach and Bible teacher Jeff Brooke and English teacher Margaret Becker. The seven-year Zambia project raised more than a million dollars to construct a high school, among other things, in the Kakolo Village in Zambia. A book on that project, written by former Warriors soccer coach Chip Huber, was released Tuesday.

One project rolled into another. To date $27,000 has been raised toward the sponsorship of the 20 orphans, working with a company called World Orphans.

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"The primary goal is to empower these 20 orphans," Brooke wrote in an email. He said a goal is to fund buildings for improved orphan care. During Wheaton Academy's Winterim break in January, 40 students went to Haiti to meet the orphans, conduct medical clinics, a youth rally, Bible classes and water distribution projects, Brooke wrote.

"We will return to Haiti next January with more students in hopes that the passion for these people continues to spread throughout our campus," he wrote, adding a May 10 home girls soccer game against Andrew will also promote the cause.

"For me I consider it special to be involved in this," Byrne said. "It allows us to really bring the kids to a bigger perspective in regard to what goes on in the world around them."

On the baseball diamond it seems to be catching.

"I think we have three, four guys who went to Haiti, so they know it first hand," Kuppler said. "They along with our whole community at Wheaton Academy has gotten on board this year and has made this project ours and not Project Lead's. It's Wheaton Academy's project, and they get that they help people by playing this game.


"So it's bigger than just a baseball game between two schools. It's two teams competing to help support this community in Haiti."

Chris Derrick update

Last Saturday on his own track at Stanford's Payton Joyner Invitational track meet, Neuqua Valley graduate Chris Derrick set the American Collegiate Record in the 10,000 meters.

A 13-time All-America in his senior year, Derrick finished third in the event at 27 minutes, 31.38 seconds, but followed Canadian Cam Levins and Kenyan Sam Chelanga.

Derrick broke Galen Rupp's American mark by 2 seconds and set a new Stanford 10K record by 28 seconds. His time was good for the Olympic A-qualifying standard, giving Derrick the A standards at both 10K and 5K distances.

On Tuesday he was named Pac-12 track athlete of the week as well as Stanford's own athlete of the week honor, which he's claimed eight times.

Win doctor

In 2011 Dominican University's baseball team limped to a record of 9-31, 6-16 in the Northern Athletics Conference.

This year the NCAA Division III outfit boasts a 20-18 mark entering Thursday's doubleheader at Aurora University, 11-9 in the NAC. On Tuesday the Dominican Stars learned they'd qualified for the NAC playoffs, earning a postseason berth for the first time since winning the Lake Michigan Conference in 2006.

The difference could be 12 seniors out of a 26-man roster. Or ranking sixth in Division III in stolen bases and in the top 50 in hit by pitch, displaying toughness and getting runners on and around the bases.

He won't say so, but it could also be first-year head coach Steve Hardman, a 1996 graduate of late, great Driscoll Catholic High School in Addison and winning pitcher of the Highlanders' 6-0 win victory over Lewiston for the 1994 Class A state title. He went on to Loras College, moved to Illinois Valley College, played two years at Northern Illinois and pitched three seasons in the Frontier League. He was elected to Driscoll's Hall of Fame in 2006.

A 34-year-old Park Ridge resident and father of 2-year-old twins, Hardman has helped engineer turnarounds before. In five seasons at North Park as Luke Johnson's associate head coach, the team jumped to 30 victories in 2011 from 14 in 2007. North Park's athletic admission recruiter as well, the baseball team's aggregate grade-point average rose to 3.1 from 2.3.

A former North Central assistant as well, Hardman said he's long desired a head coaching spot.

"I wanted my own program," he said Wednesday. "I wanted to be able to shape the program the way I wanted to."

Hardman turned down several head coaching offers over the years, he said, before choosing Dominican, which he called "a hidden gem" in River Forest.

"When it (the job) opened I jumped at it and I didn't look back," he said.

Married eight years to former Glenbrook South swimmer Sarah Day, whom he met at Northern Illinois, Hardman's first big influence, of course, was his father, Kevin. Then came Driscoll coach Jeff Sefcik, now principal at Stanton Middle School in Fox Lake.

Hardman noted what outsiders saw of his old coach, who won state titles in 1994 and 1997 -- abrasive, demanding. Around Sefcik on a daily basis -- "probably the big reason why I wanted to get into coaching" -- Hardman instead saw the motivational abilities of the college psychology major.

"He was going to get the most out of you as a player, both on and off the field," Hardman said.

Holding players accountable and treating each as an individual, Hardman is doing the same at Dominican. It'll be tough, but with a win in Thursday's doubleheader over 30-8 Aurora University the Stars can move from the sixth seed to No. 5 in the NAC tourney.

From there it's anybody's game.

"Over the next two, three years our big goal is to sustain going to the conference tournament each year and knocking on the door to get to a regional," Hardman said. "Because when you get to a regional you never know what can happen."


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