Inspired by a true coach's story

From the editor

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BRAD SPENCER

As athletes, they helped build the success of OPRF High School's sports programs. Now, as coaches, they are continuing the progress. This is the first column in a series that will profile current OPRF head coaches who once starred as athletes at the school.

t's 1988 and I'm Chris Ledbetter. I'm 18 years old. I'm a student at OPRF High School, and I'm an athlete. I play football, baseball and basketball. I was on the baseball team that was nationally ranked last year. We made it as far as the State quarterfinals, losing to eventual champs Hersey. I'm a pitcher and my record is 9-2, including seven straight wins. I was slated to be the No. 3 starter at the start of the season, and I was fine with it, for my teammates are outstanding athletes. But starting pitcher Sean Lawrence, who will go on to play in the big leagues, separated his shoulder, and I got more time on the mound.

It's a fine year. Saw Rain Man, Die Hard, and Bull Durham at the movies. Hulk Hogan is pretty cool. I rock out to Guns N' Roses. Losing the baseball sectional championship to Palatine was rough, but I'm headed to the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh to play football.

Along with my mom and my brother, I have great mentors in Jack Kaiser, Gary Olson, Al Allen and Larry Gray, all coaches. I admire and look up to them. Not having a father around isn't so bad when you have coaches who care like these guys do.

I love this school. I love the sports programs at this school. I love the dedication of the coaches. There's no other place I'd rather be. My goal is to some day return here and give back the support and knowledge that was so selflessly given to me. I'd like that more than anything.

But I'm also aware that goals can change, that the path you set out to take can lead you in perhaps another direction. We all have dream jobs. All I want is to some day be the head coach of the OPRF baseball program.

Okay, so I took some creative liberties while tapping into the mind of a teenaged Ledbetter?#34;maybe Hulk Hogan wasn't cool and Ledbetter listened more to Erasure than G N' R (let's hope not). But what isn't fictionalized is Ledbetter's unyielding desire to return to the high school he so cherished, to emulate the same dedication and devotion of his coaches. And yes, he landed his dream job. But the dream job isn't always fun and games.

It's 2006 and I'm Chris Ledbetter. I'm 35 years old. I'm a husband and father. I'm a physical education teacher at OPRF High School and am entering my sixth year as head coach of the baseball program. My head coaching record is 147-54. In my first year the team finished runner-up at State, and last year they made it to the State quarterfinals. We hope to win the big one some day.

Although these were commendable accomplishments, my proudest moment in the last five years came the day after the worst day of my coaching career. On April 14th of last year, umpire Scott Marengi collapsed of a heart-attack during our game against Willowbrook and later died. I struggled with how to help the players through that tough time. The next day they impressed me. They had grown up overnight. How they kept their focus on baseball and life was amazing. It's something I'll never forget.

Contact: bspencer@wjinc.com

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