Eaton deserves award for restoring Falcons' program
Maybe David Eaton should toss his hat into the presidential race. After turning around the Wheaton North girls basketball program in four years, perhaps he could do the same for the country.
Eaton, 27, wasn't the most likely candidate to turn around the Falcons, or any girls program for that matter. He didn't think about coaching girls until a Wheaton North freshman coaching position opened for him five years ago. The former all-conference shooting guard at Morris recalled being asked by a parent at the end of that season if he would jump to a boys job if given the chance.
"I don't think I would," Eaton surprisingly thought to himself after witnessing firsthand how girls are willing to listen and be coached.
Shortly after that season, Eaton, just 23 at the time, took over Wheaton North's girls varsity job. The health and drivers education teacher inherited a program that since 1997-98 had experienced seven consecutive losing seasons: 6-22, 7-20, 5-22, 8-20, 2-26, 5-24 and 4-23.
Things didn't improve overnight. The Falcons went 1-27 in Eaton's first season.
"Anytime you go 1-27 it's definitely challenging, especially when you're so close in so many games," said Eaton, who recalled more than half of those losses were by single digits. "It was frustrating. I spent a lot of time talking to a lot of different boys and girls coaches, just trying to figure out what I was doing wrong and what I needed to switch."
Wheaton North improved to 9-17 the next year with two key victories, one being the season opener. "I thought that was big," Eaton said. "I remember after the game just smiling ear to ear."
Later that season the Falcons snapped their DuPage Valley Conference losing streak at 58 by beating Naperville North.
"I think that season really set the tone for the girls," Eaton said. "They said, 'Hey, you know what? Our hard work is starting to pay off.' Anytime you get some wins, especially 9 over 1, I think the girls really started to believe. I think that was the year it really started going in the right direction."
Last season Wheaton North continued its turnaround by going 16-12, the program's first winning season in 10 years.
This year Eaton's wife, Stephanie, the cheerleading coach at Wheaton North, has even more to cheer. Going into Thursday night's action, her husband's team was looking as sharp as the suits he wears for games: 13-5 overall and 7-0 in the DuPage Valley Conference.
The Falcons are only halfway through the DVC schedule, but they're off to a great start toward capturing the conference crown for the first time since 1991 when they shared it with Naperville Central. It would be quite the accomplishment for any team, but especially for Wheaton North, considering its enrollment ranks seventh in the eight-team league.
The great thing about Eaton's program building is it didn't happen by recruiting or being lucky enough to have a great player come through the program to lift it. Under Eaton, the blue-collar Falcons have improved steadily over time through the hard work and dedication of the tight-knit coaches and players, who are headed by a committed senior class of Michelle Scandora, Allie Cerone, Jamei Shin and Brittany Nelson.
"They've put in a ton of time and have done just wonderful things for our program," Eaton said. "I've had some people say, 'Hey, you're doing a great job.' The credit really goes to the kids. They've put in the hours and believe in what we're trying to do. I keep singing their praises because they're just such a great group to coach."
Of course, it's obvious the coach has had more than a little to do with the program's rise. If becoming president is too far fetched for Eaton, how about a run for mayor of Wheaton if the Falcons win the DVC? If that doesn't work, here's a title that would fit for sure: Coach of the year.