Not part of the game plan

Coaches deal with adversity, health issues and change

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By Marty Farmer

Sports Editor

The term "player's coach" is often used in the sports lexicon to denote a coach who is positive and communicative toward his players with a genuine interest in their well-being.

I consider myself a player's editor. Probably the most rewarding aspect of my job is interacting with local high school athletes and watching them attain personal growth and success within the framework of a team.

 I'm also a coach's editor. Over approximately the past three months, I've been in a foreign scenario: being more worried about our coaches than players.

The concerning trend started late last spring when Rick Malnati stepped down as the Fenwick boys basketball coach.

"Five years ago [assistant coach] Staunton Peck and I got a chance to come to Fenwick to coach basketball," Malnati said in a press release issued by Fenwick. "I originally told Athletic Director Scott Thies that I would commit to three years and then Staunton would take over. I was having so much fun, I stayed five!"

Though Malnati went above and beyond his basketball call of duty with the Friars, aftershocks have been felt. Coincidentally, or more likely not, standout players D.J. Steward and Damari Nixon decided to transfer out of Fenwick shortly after his resignation. Although Peck has a solid hoops resume, the loss of Malnati will be felt. He guided the Friars to 122 wins, three Chicago Catholic League titles and a Class 3A runner-up finish over five years.

A month later, Oak Park and River Forest High School announced a more controversial coaching change.On March 22,Principal Nathaniel Rouse and Athletic Director John Stelzer notified OPRF baseball players and their players that, effective immediately, Joe Parenti would become the team's interim head coach, replacing Chris Ledbetter.

In 17 seasons, he coached the Huskies to a 443-170-2 overall record, multiple state final appearances and the Class 4A state championship in 2012.

While OPRF did not reveal the reasons for Ledbetter's firing, several sources confirmed issues of concern like erratic, disconcerting behavior on the field and a negative effect on some of his players. In fairness, many people around the baseball program and the community support him. He remains a physical education teacher at OPRF.

Last week, Ledbetter was stopped by police in Bridgeview around 10:19 p.m. on July 24 for failing to signal while making a left turn. After he failed to provide a valid driver's license, police took him into custody. While searching Ledbetter's vehicle, officers discovered 1.5 grams of cocaine.

My hope for OPRF, its students, and Ledbetter himself is that the best solution is found for all parties involved in a very unfortunate and messy situation.

At Trinity, meanwhile, basketball head coach Mike Valente resigned in June due to a health problem. He coached the Blazers for three years, highlighted by the team's Class 4A third-place finish and a 30-6 record during the 2015-16 season.

Kim Coleman has been named the Blazers' new head coach.

"I am blessed with this opportunity to coach and teach in a great school, and furthermore to help guide these young women on and off the court and to become leaders in life," Coleman said in a press release issued by Trinity.

Finally, OPRF head football coach John Hoerster recently had a serious medical issue occur this summer while on vacation with his family. Thankfully, the affable coach is recovering well and appears on track to coach the Huskies this season.

With the new sports year starting in three weeks, I wish all the coaches good luck and good health.


Email: Twitter: @OakParkSports

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