ST. CHARLES – High school athletes and their families enjoyed a dinner buffet, including chicken wings and Italian beef, during the Kane County Chronicle Athlete of the Week Awards Banquet on June 7.
Long resistant to rich foods around competition, even wrestlers feasted on the fare at Abby’s Breakfast and Lunch in downtown St. Charles.
“Yeah,” grinned Nate Jimenez, a 160-pound Marmion junior from St. Charles. “It’s the offseason.”
Perhaps in name it is, but the pursuit of athletic excellence compels many honorees year-round. Keynote speaker Dan Muse, coach of the Geneva-based Chicago Steel of the United States Hockey League, supported that reality in a motivational address that preceded the presentation of awards.
“Whether it’s that sport, or maybe it’s something else, go with what you’re passionate about. … If you’re doing something, give everything you possibly can to that sport,” Muse said.
Muse, who guided the Steel to the franchise’s first Clark Cup championship in May, detailed the way he developed an affinity for hockey in a most unusual place. Calling the Alabama of his youth “a state that had two rinks and maybe 60 players,” Muse nonetheless began his career climb there before a move to Massachusetts during high school bolstered his opportunities.
Not content to conclude his playing days once his prep career ended, Muse described how hard work and dedication helped him achieve a newfound goal of competing in college. The same qualities, he said, were instrumental in his career and life arc since then, including stints as a prospective law student and high school history teacher before he entered coaching.
“You’re going to look back someday and you’ll be able to take a ton of pride in knowing that whatever you were doing in that sport, you gave everything that you possibly could,” Muse told the gathering. “And do that for yourself, but also do that for whoever’s around you. Whether it’s your teammates, your coaches, your parents – who I’m sure all the parents in this room spent a lot of time and a lot of money helping to support you and get you to where you are right now. But give it not just for yourself, but give it for them. And equally as important, if not more important, take everything you can from it. Being a part, being able to be an athlete, being able to do something that you’re passionate about, it’s a gift.”
Geneva girls basketball junior Margaret Whitley, a guard who helped the Vikings to the Class 4A state championship in March, appreciated the message.
“Just because it’s nice to be reminded of what things you need to keep in the back of your head when you’re training and working hard,” Whitley said. “And sometimes people lose sight of what it’s all for, I guess, and so it’s nice to be reminded about it every once in a while.”
Kane County Chronicle weekly group editor Kathy Balcazar talked about the prep athletes during a night that also featured remarks from Chronicle general manager Ryan Wells. Tom Hansen, president of St. Charles Bank & Trust, which sponsors the Athlete of the Week program, helped pass out awards.
The Chronicle recognized male and female Athletes of the Year at night’s end. Kaneland cross country and track standout Matt Richtman, a junior, earned male honors, while four-year volleyball and basketball stalwart Grace Loberg, a recent Geneva graduate, received the female nod.
Neither athlete was able to attend, but Loberg, training for the beginning of her collegiate volleyball career at Wisconsin, emailed a statement thanking the Chronicle for its coverage.