Coach: Former Titan football star takes on a new challenge
Back in the day, when former Glenbrook South star football player Dan Vosnos would make a big defensive hit -- maybe causing a turnover and recovering a fumble or, better yet, making an interception -- he knew sometimes that one play, that one moment, could completely turn a game around.
Some 25 years later, he has made a similar impact, but this time without his bone-crushing tackle. All it took was a letter.
The Class of 1997 all-conference offensive lineman/linebacker has just been named the Executive Director for One Chance Illinois, an organization that helps inner city kids and children with special needs afford private schools and other institutions offering better educational opportunities.
How he got the job or, really, how the job came to him is a story unto its own.
But first, a quick rewind.
Vosnos was a two-year starter for the Titans back in 1996-97, earning all-conference honors, and playing well enough to grab an invite to play at one of the top D-3 schools in the country, Illinois Wesleyan. He lettered there for four years, including starting at linebacker both his junior and senior year.
After his playing career was over, though, his sports journey was just beginning.
Vosnos was always mature beyond his years, and even in high school had a certain instinct, vision and rare focus on what he wanted to do and what he wanted to accomplish. Kind of an old soul, you will, but at the time, still playing a kids' game. He excelled on the football field, not so much due to any remarkable athletic ability, but more on good, old-fashioned hard work, intelligence, toughness and a pure love of the game.
He was that kind of kid.
Not so surprisingly, upon completing his schooling, Vosnos took his grand vision and love of sports and went into the field of athletic administration. Right out of college, he landed a coveted job at Evanston High School as an academic adviser, while soon working his way up to associate athletic director. A huge responsibility at one of the largest schools in Illinois.
It might have been tough at first for the true blue Titan, to trade the old navy and blue Evanston orange, and it was -- but he did, for nine good years.
He was then offered his first head athletic director job. With his experience helping to run a large program at Evanston, he was more than ready for a position at Jacobs High School in Algonquin.
"I loved it at Jacobs," Vosnos said. "I could have stayed there forever, but the commute from Chicago was just getting too difficult."
So he started searching.
By that time Vosnos had built up a solid reputation in the Illinois high school sports community and, when South suburban Homewood-Flossmoor High School -- one of the top sports schools in the Chicago area -- went looking for a new athletic director, it was Vosnos they sought out.
"That was a big step up," said the ex-Titan. "Going to one of the top sports schools in the state, especially in football, basketball, and track and field, and being the head guy and, to add to it, they were just coming off some probation violations -- so I was kind of thrown into the fire."
But when you play inside linebacker for so many years, being "thrown into the fire" is kind of what you do. Vosnos, was more than up for the challenge and jumped headfirst into the job, helping the H-F Vikings continue their great tradition in Illinois sports.
In the meantime, back on the ranch, he and his wife Elizabeth had their first child, Ellis, who was born with numerous health issues including heart defects and Down syndrome. Ellis required much care and help, and on semi-direct orders from household head coach/wife Elizabeth, Vosnos knew he needed to be at home more, and the long hours of an athletic director, especially at a school so far away, was not going to allow that.
So with five solid, successful years under his belt, he left Homewood-Flossmoor and took a job much closer to home, as the associate athletic director at Lake Forest High School.
"Perfect location, great school, slightly less stress on the job; I was really enjoying it at Lake Forest," Vosnos said.
But then came the"sudden change" we were talking about.
Vosnos made maybe his biggest hit of his entire star-studded career, and as mentioned at the top, it all started with a letter.
He and wife Elizabeth composed a heartfelt email, on behalf of their son Ellis, and sent it to Illinois Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton and the board of Illinois' Early Intervention Program.
They described how much it hurt when in-person therapies were discontinued for kids with special needs during the pandemic.
It read in part: "The news we received yesterday was another punch in the gut. We felt anger. We felt disappointment. We felt let down (again). To take away therapies from our most vulnerable population. Kids like our son Ellis, kids who have special needs and are falling further behind developmentally. Why was this taken away? Why were we not offered a choice to make a collaborative decision with our therapists and continue in-person therapies?"
The letter immediately caught people's attention. NBC 5's Vi Nguyen saw it on social media and contacted the governor's office for comment. Pretty quickly, the ball started rolling.
Next, Vosnos was asked to speak at a ReOpen Illinois rally. Numerous other groups reached out to him for comment and, suddenly, both he and the topic were hot.
"I was immediately thrust into the advocacy world," said the ex-athletic director. "People were contacting me from all around the state -- people who all had the same 'kids first' mantra that me and my wife had."
Then he heard from Myles Mendoza, the departing executive director of One Chance Illinois. Seeing Vosnos' passion for the mission and knowing his experience, Mendoza recruited Vosnos to succeed him as head of the organization.
This was definitely not in the plans for the football star turned athletic director, but life, as we all know, can take unexpected turns.
Vosnos researched the organization and decided to take on the new challenge. He now finds himself traveling the state, contacting as many parents and groups as he can, to help promote the organization's mission: To give kids with disabilities or from lower-income homes a chance to get into better schools and empower them with choice.
"I was fortunate," Vosnos states, "I grew up with a great family in a wonderful suburb like Glenview. But there are so many 'unique learners' who can't, or do not have those same opportunities. That is my new mission now in life with One Chance Illinois."
Quite a journey for the ex-Titan linebacker.
And knowing him and his story, there's little doubt that Vosnos will meet this challenge with the same toughness, one mindedness, and sole purpose that he did back in his high school and college playing days, when he would step into the gap, fight off oncoming blockers, and directly take on the other teams best running back -- often winning that battle.
One can't help but think One Chance Illinois found themselves the right leader.
For more information about One Chance Illinois, visit onechanceillinois.org.
• Jon Cohn of Glenview is a coach, retired PE teacher, sports official and prep sports fan. To contact him with comments or story ideas, email firstname.lastname@example.org.