If you drive past Maine East on Dempster Street, you might notice a press box being constructed behind the varsity baseball field’s backstop.
It’s one of the more visible signs of progress for the school’s athletic department, but there are several other changes taking place under athletic director Steve Schanz.
A year ago this month, Schanz accepted the athletic director job at Maine East and he officially started last August. He left his post as the girls basketball coach and assistant athletic director at Oak Forest to become an athletic director for the first time. He replaced Michael Bender, who now serves as Maine East’s dean of students.
Recently, Schanz spoke to Pioneer Press about the highlights and challenges of his first year in charge of sports at the Park Ridge school.
Q: How has the first year gone?
A: I’ve loved it. As you strive for career goals, and being an AD was a career goal of mine, you never really know for sure if you will like it. But I know for sure. It’s been outstanding. I’ve got a great support group here at the school, and have gotten support from ADs and other people in the district and conference. It’s been a great year overall.
Q: What have been the biggest athletic accomplishments at Maine East in your first year? On the field? Off the field?
A: We have a great group of coaches. It was kind of an observation year to see how they run their programs. I’ve been impressed. We’ve made baby steps in all the sports. We had two conference champions: girls basketball and girls water polo. They were the school’s first conference champions since 2001-02.
That was just good timing on my part, it had nothing to with anything on my part. They were groups who had worked hard together. Hopefully, they will serve as nice role models to other teams.
Off the field, we increased our visibility in the school and community, our social media and athletic Twitter [accounts] have grown this year. We try to keep that updated
Also, our numbers have increased in all sports. We have been able to add a Freshman B girls basketball team. We’ve added so many numbers, huge numbers in soccer, decent in others sports, as well.
Q: What have been your biggest challenges, so far?
A: My own challenges have been trying to figure out budgets. That’s been my biggest learning curve. But I’m learning. We just finished the budgets for next year.
Of course, just raising the level of Maine East athletics [is a daily challenge]. The coaches already are doing that. We had successful boys and girls volleyball teams and the girls basketball and water polo obviously. It gets you excited. I think most of the coaches truly believe we can and should be competitive and they’re working hard toward that.
Q: What are the projects you are looking to tackle going forward?
A: We’re certainly looking to increase our feeder programs in all sports. We’ve taken steps forward in a few sports going into next year. It’s important for the varsity coaches to be reaching out, letting [younger children] know what’s out there, and just being more visible, whether it’s going to the junior highs, organizing actual feeder programs or AAU programs. The coaches are getting our name out more, and there is more participation in clubs and teams.
Q: Please talk about a few construction projects that relate to athletics.
A: We are having a press box built at our varsity baseball field. One of our classes that’s half geometry and half industrial technology is building the press box and it’s almost done. We received a grant and the athletic department did throw some money in. The boosters also gave money to make it possible. Different people have volunteered their time. We have kids out there in hard hats. We’ve also added a new softball fence.
Plus, we’ve put in new lights in the stadium. The old lights will be taken out of there after July Fourth. We’re getting rid of the 1950s light poles that were inside the track, those are relics. We put in high-powered ones that are outside the track.
Q: Have there been any recent personnel decisions in your department?
A: Our boys soccer coach Vic DiPrizio retired. He’s been at the school for some 30-odd years and the boys coach for the last 15. He was replaced by Jeff Bishop, who was his assistant and is the girls head coach at Maine West.
We just hired Neil Adamson to take over the girls gymnastics program. He’s in the building, is an alum and is an assistant boys gymnastics coach. [Girls gymnastics coach] Angie Hughes recently resigned due to personal reasons. We’re in the process of hiring a new girls soccer coach after Julie Dickinson stepped down [to spend more time with her children].
There was a lot of interest in those positions. For boys soccer, we got a lot of qualified applicants. People see the talent that is here. It was a tough choice for me, but we’re very happy with Jeff [Bishop]. He nailed the interview.