John Kasik put Oak Park and River Forest volleyball on the map, but he won’t tell you that. Instead, he tosses more credit around than MasterCard. He throws out names like Dan Schultz, Nate Werner, Lea Keovanpheng, Tom Trantow, Ben White, Chris Walstra, Sean O’Malley?the names go on and on.

Whether he wants to shun the recognition or not, Kasik is the main reason OPRF has enjoyed success in volleyball over the last 14 years. He coached his final high school volleyball game when the OPRF boys’ team won third place at the State tournament last season. At the end of this school year?#34;his 34th year teaching?#34;Kasik will pack up the trophies and plaques that adorn the walls in his office and, during retirement, tap into the fond memories he helped create on the volleyball court.

He’ll have a lot to glean from.

Kasik completed his impressive high school coaching career with a 355-165-1 record. During his tenure, the program placed second in the State tournament three times (’92, ’93 and ’98). Last season marked the program’s ninth trip to State, an IHSA record.

By Kasik’s way of thinking, he’s simply been Phil Jackson surrounded by exceptional talent.

“I was blessed with a lot of talent early on, and went from there,” he says. “As time went on the sport began to draw better and better athletes. We were lucky in that sense. Volleyball was always popular out in the western suburbs, but it took time for the excitement to build in the Chicago area.

“High School coaching is neat because you get what you get, and there’s no recruiting.”

The coach got what he got in Dan Schultz, who went on to play professionally overseas and who still holds the record for most kills in the State tournament: 77 (he had 39 in one match, another record). Kasik coached John Schultz, Dan’s younger brother who became an All-Stater. Kasik coached Werner, who still holds the record for most assists at State: 118. Kasik coached Trantow, who went on to star at Ohio State University. Kasik coached O’Malley, who will play at UCLA this fall, and who holds the record for career kills with over 1,400.

How exactly did Kasik nurture the talent he was blessed with? Wouldn’t you know it: He remains modest about that too.

“I went to a class on it and decided to stick with a simple and efficient way to teach the game: Train them well,” he says. “In the beginning we knew these kids weren’t going to be playing the sport all year round, like they are now with the assortment of clubs and such. So, the idea was to get the most out of them you could. And the training kept us in the limelight.”

Kasik drifts back nine years to 1996 when recalling one of his fondest memories. “We weren’t expected to be that great of a team. Dan Schultz had a career year, and the players worked hard. It was a coach’s dream, because we didn’t think we would go too far that year and we did,” he says remembering when the Huskies finished third at State.

Although a State title has eluded Kasik all these years, he’s still got time. His three daughters Megan, 12, Erin, 10, and Michelle, 8, have all taken a liking to the sport, and Kasik is involved in Megan’s middle school team.

“I plan on staying heavily involved in the sport,” he says. “Being in a gym has always been fun for me. No matter how your day went in the classroom or wherever, being in the gym is like relaxing.”

Or like retirement.


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Brad Spencer

Brad Spencer has been covering sports in and around Oak Park for more than a decade, which means the young athletes he once covered in high school are now out of college and at home living with their parents...