By Melvin Tate
Coach. Teacher. Assistant principal. Interim principal. Guidance counselor.
These are among the many jobs Richard Borsch did well during his long and distinguished career at Fenwick High School. If ever there was to be a Friars' legends version of Mount Rushmore, Mr. Borsch would be up there among the likes of Johnny Lattner, Tony Lawless, and Dan O'Brien.
Borsch, who died on June 14, spent 52 years at Fenwick. He started as an English teacher in 1968 before he became Director of College Counseling in 1972, a position he held until his passing. More than half of all the school's graduates were helped through the college selection process under Borsch's guidance. He was appointed Associate Principal in 1992 and served as Interim Principal in 2009.
Borsch also was a key contributor to the consistent success of Fenwick's varsity football program and was a part of the program for 41 years. 30 of those seasons came as head freshman coach where his teams had 26 winning seasons, eight Chicago Catholic League championships (including three 9-0 champions), and three runner-up finishes. Borsch also served as head sophomore coach as well as a varsity assistant. He was a staff member on both the 1991 Prep Bowl Champions and the 1995 IHSA Class 5A state semifinalist that fell to eventual state champion Maine South High School 6-3 in overtime at Oak Park Stadium.
Borsch's funeral mass was held at St. Giles in Oak Park on September 18, which was followed by a gathering at Jimmy's Place in Forest Park. There, several fond memories of Borsch were recalled.
Here is what a few former Friars had to say about Borsch:
JOHN QUINN, former Fenwick boys basketball coach:
"It brings tears to my eyes, but I never walked in that building in my entire life where Rich Borsch wasn't working. Looking back, he influenced so many people in so many ways. Rich had a great sense of humor, and wasn't afraid to zing you. He had an uncanny ability to assess human personality. That always struck me.
"He looked out for kids who needed help the most. He was always looking for the kids who might be a little edgy or have trouble in their lives and saw the good and potential within them. He could see some talent in every youngster and wanted to make sure they saw it too."
EMMET FLOOD, Fenwick alum and former attorney in President Donald Trump's administration, on how Mr. Borsch helped turn around his senior year:
"He said, 'Look, this isn't working for you; let's make a deal. If you promise to do the readings, I'll excuse you from the class so that you can go to the library, and then come to me during lunch hour.' He gave up his lunch period to work with me from the third week of September until the end of the school year.
"When I look back on the experience I had with him, among his many great qualities the most significant one besides from his boundless generosity was this: he was a mentor and looked out for you. He stood as a father figure, and he never wanted anything in return. That's the way I loved him."
CATHY MALONE, mother of Fenwick basketball alum John Malone (Class of 2011). John Malone died in a tragic car accident near Indiana University in 2013; Fenwick's annual Thanksgiving basketball tournament is named after him:
"About a month into his freshman year, Mr. Borsch called John to his office. He said, 'John, what do you want to do while you're here at Fenwick?' He told Mr. Borsch he wanted to do well there and eventually go to the University of Michigan and study something where he could eventually make a lot of money. Mr. Borsch then said, 'OK, here's what you have to do. No. 1, listen to me; No. 2, do exactly as I say and I will get you to Michigan.' That started the list of to-dos, and then he said, 'Now get out of my office and don't be late for practice!' Mr. Borsch was on his tail from that moment on. The list never changed, even though John chose Indiana University; his best friends from Fenwick were going there."
MARQUES SULLIVAN, Fenwick football alum (Class of 1996); former University of Illinois and NFL player:
"Coach Borsch was my introduction to the game of football. He supplied us with knowledge, mentorship, and wisdom to myself and my teammates. Coach Borsch really impacted people like myself and gave us a reason to pay it forward. My most rewarding job was coaching freshman football, and that's because of Rich Borsch."
GRACE CRONIN, Fenwick track and field alum (Class of 2016):
"Almost five years ago, I came to Mr. Borsch with the vision of competing in Division 1 track. At the time, I truly didn't understand my capabilities, but Mr. Borsch did. He had the unique ability to see students for who they were beyond the classroom and the field. He saw them for who they were to the world.
"Looking back at my time at Notre Dame where I competed in track, there were plenty of moments where I lost faith in myself. It was those days where I reminded myself of the individuals that were there for and believed in me. It was those days that I thought of Rich Borsch. Every child needs an adult to believe in them, and for many, Mr. Borsch filled that role. Not a day will go by where I don't look up and thank Mr. Borsch."
CONNER LILLIG, Fenwick football alum (Class of 2017), recalling how Mr. Borsch helped him to secure a preferred walk-on spot with the University of Illinois football team:
"[Borsch] said, 'We're going to email these schools and use these specific words. Everything will be granted at the end of the day.' For some reason, I trusted him a lot. Out of all the emails, only one school replied: the University of Illinois. The director of player personnel called Mr. Borsch and said, 'Tell me more about this kid.' Mr. Borsch was so persistent, saying I was undervalued and overlooked and needs to play football at a Division 1 school. He told him that they'd be getting a great student, person, and football player.
"I just appreciate Coach Borsch for believing in me when nobody else did. I wasn't supposed to go to the University of Illinois to play football, but he made it happen. And because of what he did, I've made life-long friends and memories that I'll cherish forever."
You can find Richard Borsch's obituary here: LINK
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