Amrhein, the man and the athlete, will be missed

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By Brad Spencer

Sports Editor

Ten years ago Mike Amrhein told a Wednesday Journal reporter about his former high school basketball coach being one of his biggest influences.

"He's one of the main reasons why I am the way I am today," he said of Al Allen, former OPRF High School hoops coach. "He helped develop my maturity, and I've been able to carry over the lessons he taught me into baseball."

Amrhein was 26 at the time and playing for the West Tennessee Diamond Jaxx, a Double-A affiliate of the Chicago Cubs. He was a catcher, helping develop such up-and-coming pitching prospects as Mark Prior, but he was also on his last legs in pursuit of making the big leagues. A few months after Amrhein spoke to Wednesday Journal, he was called up to the Cubs Triple-A affiliate in Iowa. But he never did make it to the big leagues.

On this day, Allen, with a heavy heart and a voice on the verge of breaking, remembers his former basketball player.

"He was so fast and overpowering in the post, he would just leave defenders standing there. He was ferocious on the court but mild-mannered off it. He was just 6-foot-3 but he could dunk and he was a player who would just never quit."

It's difficult for everyone who knew Amrhein or came into contact with him or read about his athletic achievements to grasp why he took his own life on July 5. Allen won't talk about it, going so far as to say, "I only know that he passed away, and that's all I know."

Perhaps it's respectful of Amrhein and his family. But Allen knows the former OPRF High School athletic star killed himself, leaving his wife Jill, whom Amrhein met at OPRF and who was the manager of the basketball team when he played, and their two young children, Ally and Ella, without a husband and father. There might not be a definitive reason why he did it, but if there is, it's not for us to pry.

Allen's voice returns to its usual huskiness as he recalls how he and legendary OPRF baseball coach Jack Kaiser, who died in 2000, had to sit down and discuss how to keep Amrhein's competitive nature reined in.

"During the summers, Mike wanted to be playing in every single basketball and baseball game, which was impossible to do," recalls Allen. "I literally had to order him to play baseball at times. He was a good basketball player, but he was an outstanding baseball player. That's the kind of guy he was, the ultimate competitor."

Allen used to live down the street from the Amrheins, whom he refers to as a "phenomenal family."

"Mike's parents, Tom and Anne, are just wonderful people. I used to take my son, Kyle, down to their house long ago and Mike would show him how to hit. They'd spend hours hitting into the fence in the backyard."

Allen remembers this particular memory fondly because Amrhein was starring for Notre Dame at that point, yet there he was taking the time to coach a youngster on how to hit. "And that I won't ever forget," he says softly. 

He also says he won't ever forget the fake drop-step followed by the jump hook that he dubbed the Amrhein Move. "He would nail it, and I would ask myself, 'How am I supposed to teach that to someone else?'"

Allen says he also won't forget the particular practice when he was disgusted with the play of some of his starters and told them so. "Mike came back into the gym later and told me I was right, that he'd been playing horribly. I was stunned. I said, 'Mike, I wasn't talking about you.' I spent a half hour convincing him he deserved to be a starter."

Allen and the sports brethren Amrhein cultivated over his 37 years won't soon forget the man who competed so fiercely on ballfields and basketball courts from Oak Park to Iowa and then taught what he knew at Downers Grove North High School the last six years. They're sure to remember and celebrate his life and try desperately to fathom his untimely death.

All that's left are the memories.

"They're going to have to chase me around the locker room to get my uniform," he told Wednesday Journal a decade ago when queried about the possibility of retiring from playing baseball. "I'm not going to give it up without a fight."

According to Amrhein's obituary by Knollcrest Funeral Home, services were held privately. Memorials for the benefit of Alexis (Ally) and Michaela (Ella) Amrhein can be made through any Fifth Third Bank branch.

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Reader Comments

16 Comments - Add Your Comment

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Comment Policy

DMS from Lisle  

Posted: August 9th, 2012 5:58 PM

i had the pleasure of knowing Mike in a manner that might be somewhat different than most, I knew him as an Asst. Boy's Basketball coach at O.P.R.F. Soph. level. Mike was an unbelievable competitor and was an extremely interesting young man at the age of 15. My friendship with Mike grew from there and I had the pleasure of watching him mature into a genuine person who developed into the type of man that we all strive to become, one who has integrity and a love of life that he gave his kids.

Pete LaFleur from Littleton, CO  

Posted: July 13th, 2012 7:29 PM

Many of you may already have read this article (link below) I wrote about Mike (and Cory Mee) when they returned as members of the visiting coaching staff in a 2004 game at Notre Dame. I went back and re-read this the day after Mike's death, and there's a nice mixture of bio. info., quotes & anecdotes. For those of you who were close to Mike, I hope it helps recall some great memories. - Pete LaFleur (ND baseball SID, 1997-2007) Link:

Anna Pec from Downers Grove  

Posted: July 13th, 2012 8:34 AM

Continued: to reread this, including his daughters one day. Don't you see that your audience is family, friends, and students whose lives he truely touched and that your warning not to "pry" is hypocritical in every meaning of the word given your the only writer to release a possible cause of death. Out of respect for his family, please consider modifying or taking down what you have written. Sincerely, Those You Write For

Anna Pec from Downers Grove  

Posted: July 13th, 2012 8:26 AM

You write for an audience, do you not? Perhaps you should start up your own blog and retire from writing for a local paper if you feel that your personal vendetta is prevention and btw the hotline number/counseling info you neglected to provide really shows how much of a "intention" that was. Those who knew him are telling you this is a far cry from a tribute given the info provided/poor choice of how its worded and those people are most likely the only ones who will come across this again


Posted: July 12th, 2012 7:56 PM

Continued-okay the release of this information with her. Maybe you should have and then you could've added details to your article about what an incredible father and husband he was. I'm sure that is something his girls would've loved to read about!


Posted: July 12th, 2012 7:49 PM

As a relative, I am appalled that you had the audacity to include such sensitive matters in your "tribute". Your article is marred by the mention of his cause of death. Just because you do not feel that you have insulted the sensitivities of this tragedy or disrespected the family's wishes, does not make it so. Mentioning that Michael has left his wife and children without a husband and father was ignorant and unnecessary. I know you did not contact Jill, his grieving widow, and

Deb Quantock McCarey  

Posted: July 12th, 2012 7:38 PM

Over the last 15 years, two people who were part of my life committed suicide, my brother-in-law. who was clinically depressed, and my neighbor, who was bi-polar. What I have to say is this: de-stigmatizing suicide is integral. Talking about what happened out loud is the first step. The book "Darkness Visible" is a go-to read, at least it was for me. NAMI can help.

John from Oak Park  

Posted: July 12th, 2012 11:55 AM

We have very different definitions of the word tribute. All you stated was that Mike had left Jill without a husband and his daughters without a father, while it may or may not be fact, it wasn't your place to announce that to the public. As for helping someone in the future you should have at least provided a phone number in the article if you were so concerned. Seeing as you didn't, I don't feel this was you true intention. Let the family grieve in peace!

katherine e butler (Kat Butler) from oak park  

Posted: July 12th, 2012 11:22 AM

Yet again, a member of the media somehow feels compelled to satisfy the circus of public curiosity. As a friend of Mrs. Amrhein, all I can say is: Shut up. Please leave her and her family alone to deal with their grief as they see fit.

Brad Spencer, sports editor of Wednesday Journal  

Posted: July 12th, 2012 10:30 AM

I understand your concerns, however, I do not feel the column insults the sensitivities of this tragedy or disrespects the family's wishes. It's a tribute to Mike, the husband, the father, the athlete and the man. He was an educator and a coach, beloved by many. Acknowledging his death can prevent speculation and rumor, and, most importantly, perhaps help save a life. In the far off future, if his children ever Google his name and come upon this column, they will find a tribute to their father.

John from Oak Park  

Posted: July 12th, 2012 8:57 AM

It's not our place to pry, however, it is your place to announce to the public details that the family wanted to keep private? Mike and Jill's daughters should not be able to google their father, who was a great man, and read how he passed away. Let their mother handle that, it isn't our place or your place to reveal this to the general public. RIP Mike.

Megan from Oak Park, IL  

Posted: July 12th, 2012 8:10 AM

Shame on you! Not one other article/person felt the need to speculate or release private details. Just couldn't help yourself, huh? SHAME ON YOU!

Robert Becker from Oak park  

Posted: July 12th, 2012 2:44 AM

Where the hell does a families privacy begin or end. I understand people have a job to do but my god when does doing the right thing, looking inside your heart to do the simpilest of acts and not just be a reporter, reporting the news but become a human being with feelings who understands that th human spirit means more than just the story but what you print affects people. Life is too short and precious so dont waste a second. Mike lived that motto, rip Mikey

Jonathan Dutter from Lowell, MI  

Posted: July 11th, 2012 6:10 PM

Mr. Allen was my football coach and math teacher while I was in OPRF. He would never say anything negative about someone, and that you put words into his mouth is appauling!!! I was also friends with Mike from the time we went to Lincoln together. Your decision to release his possible cause of death when his family obviously wanted that kept privet was very distasteful. It just shows how low of a person you are. Thank you for deepening a wound that may never heal. RIP MIKE, you'll be remembered

marebear from oak park  

Posted: July 11th, 2012 3:50 PM

Mike's death is very sad and. I am sure devastating to his family. I just don't understand why you felt it was your place to announce that he had taken his life. It's too bad you couldn't have shown a little more respect to his family at this very difficult time. When a funeral is private and cause of death is not disclosed, people can read between the lines on their own.


Posted: July 10th, 2012 5:04 PM

Very sad.

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