When Jack Wagner came back to Fenwick in 2000 to serve as the school’s girl’s water polo head coach, his goal was to find players who had the drive to compete at a high level. It didn’t matter if a player showed the promise to be a program-altering star or a two-year benchwarmer. He demanded the best out of all his players.
That is the legacy he leaves behind entering retirement after 26 years of coaching girls water polo. With nine state titles under his belt and more than 600 wins during his tenure at the helm of the program, Wagner walks away with nothing left to prove.
“Spending time at practice, getting to know people, letting them get to know me and winning some state championships along the way, I am a really lucky guy,” said Wagner. “I feel like they would have been successful whether I was there or not because [the players] were so hard working. I am the guy that gets the credit but I will always appreciate Fenwick and the players who worked not only in the pool but in the classroom as well.”
Citing the fragile state of IHSA sports and being able to spend more time with his family during the pandemic, Wagner was able to make his decision with more ease than he would if the circumstances were different.
“When I came back to Fenwick after coaching at Indiana University, I had no idea that I would have a family,” said Wagner. “I always had the thought in the back of my head that when I have a son and he graduates high school that would be a good time for me to walk away. He graduated this year and, honestly, this whole COVID thing gave me more time to spend with my family. It made me realize that it was the right time to go.”
Over his 20 years as the school’s water polo head coach, Wagner established Fenwick as a championship juggernaut. His teams have a 9-1 record at the state finals and he led the program to back-to-back-to-back championships from 2004-06.
He also was an assistant coach for the Friars from 1993-98 before leading Indiana University’s first ever girls water polo team. He returned to Fenwick the following year.
However, he is most proud of how he handled his teams throughout the years.
“I never treated the girls any different than I would treat the boys,” said Wagner, “And not only that, I treated them the way they would be treated in college if they went on to play at that level. When they walked onto the pool deck at college, they knew what to do and I think they always appreciated that.”
Now that he has left Fenwick, Wagner said he’ll swap coaching duties for fishing, home landscaping and being with his family.
“I’m a novice golfer,” Wagner said, laughing.
In a press release, Athletic Director Scott Thies praised Wagner for his time and commitment to the program.
“We thank Coach Jack Wagner for his tireless efforts in leading one of the most successful programs in the history of Illinois high school athletics,” Thies said. “Jack is an all-time great and a master at building teams, setting high expectations and getting everyone to bring their best every day.
“Coach Wagner will be missed but will always be a huge part of the Fenwick community, and we look forward to continuing a tradition of excellence in girls water polo at Fenwick.”
According to the press release, Fenwick is actively looking for a new head coach to take over the program.