From the editor
It wasn’t the big win or the big play that had Chris Ledbetter feeling proud of his players last month.
The OPRF head baseball coach looked up and saw one of his baseball players in line. Then he saw another and another and then another. Then, he noticed players from OPRF’s sophomore football team, of which he is also head coach, and the support of all these players and former players helped him get through a very difficult time recently in Ledbetter’s family’s life.
Saturday, June 19 began like any other day in the busy life of a head coach. In the morning, Ledbetter was helping coach a passing league game for his football team. After it was over he finally had two or three hours free to spend in Elmhurst with his young daughters, whom he literally hadn’t seen for 48 hours. Double duty coaching the baseball team in summer league play and helping run summer camp for the sophomore football team had chewed up most of his personal time. He was looking forward to hanging out with Laney and Caitlin in Elmhurst before donning his OPRF ballcap and heading out to the baseball diamond in Oak Park.
But Ledbetter’s wife, Amy, was worried. She hadn’t heard from her mother who was supposed to be picking her up so they could participate in a cancer awareness fundraiser called Relay for Life. Marifran Dunne, owner and operator of Doc Ryan’s pub in Elmhurst for over 14 years, either saw or talked on the phone with her two daughters every single day. Ledbetter knew something was amiss and chose to accompany Amy to her mother’s home just a few blocks away. After Ledbetter kicked in the back door, they found Dunne dead of a massive heart attack at the young age of 62.
“She was a fantastic lady and it really hits hard because she was so young and still had so much to offer,” he said last week of his mother-in-law. “She was very personable – you don’t own and run a bar and not be personable – and she was always on the go.”
Coaching was put on hold for awhile. What stands out in Ledbetter’s mind during that difficult time were the waves of current and former athletes who came through the line at Dunne’s wake to show support for the coach and his family. Most of them had never met their coach’s mother-in-law.
“I tend to be very hard on my players because I want to get the best out of them, and there they are lifting me up during a rough time in my family’s life,” he said. “The kids I coach and the kids I once coached never cease to amaze me. It was very emotional for me to see them there. I can’t thank them enough for the cards and the support.”
Ledbetter also said he was thankful for the support of his assistant coaches, most notably Wayne Wente, who has been at his side since Ledbetter took over head baseball coaching duties in 2000.
“Wayne and his wife were there in a second and took our kids, and he coached the team while I was away. There aren’t words to describe how appreciative we are of what they did for us,” he said. “I’m fortunate to get to go to work each day with my best friend.”
People tend to do good things for other good people. It was Ledbetter who in April of 2005 tried desperately to save umpire Scott Marengi, who collapsed from a heart attack in the second inning of the Huskies’ game at Willowbrook. Ledbetter immediately administered CPR, worked a defibrillator and continued with chest compressions while paramedics moved Marengi to an ambulance. Although Ledbetter was able to get a faint heartbeat back after six minutes, the 47-year-old Marengi died at the hospital.
The 2005 OPRF baseball team helped him get over that tragedy as well.
Sometimes players can surprise a coach – on and off the field.