New Trier baseball coach Mike Napoleon breaks state record for wins

Mike Napoleon won his 951st game in April. Through Wednesday, he was at 954 and counting.

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New Trier baseball coach Mike Napoleon talks with Jackson McCarey during the game against Niles West.

New Trier baseball coach Mike Napoleon talks with Jackson McCarey during the game against Niles West.

Kirsten Stickney/For the Sun-Times

When COVID shut down high school sports in Illinois for much of the 2020-21 school year, Mike Napoleon and the other coaches at New Trier were given the task of updating their career records in the IHSA database.

That’s when Napoleon realized he was on the verge of something special. A head baseball coach for nearly four decades, Napoleon was closing in on what had seemed an unapproachable milestone: Dave Swisegood’s state-record 950 victories over 50 seasons at Plymouth and Augusta Southeastern in a career that started in 1956.

‘‘My sons caught wind of it,’’ said Napoleon, who was at just less than 900 victories when the pandemic arrived. ‘‘The countdown actually started last year, but we didn’t have a very good year.’’

The Trevians had their first losing record (16-17) since Napoleon took over the program in 1997, but it just delayed the inevitable. On April 27, with Napoleon’s family, former players and friends on hand, New Trier shut out Glenbrook North 5-0 for Napoleon’s 951st victory in his 39th season as a head coach. Through Wednesday, he was at 954 and counting.

He doesn’t remember his first victory, which came as a 23-year-old rookie head coach in 1985 at Notre Dame after he had spent three seasons as an assistant at Quigley South.

After six seasons with the Dons, Napoleon went to Danville Schlarman for one year before hearing about a head-coaching opening at Providence.

‘‘I got an interview,’’ Napoleon said. ‘‘Matt Senffner was the AD. He knew that I [also] coached football and was asking me a ton of football questions.’’

On his way back to Danville, Napoleon called legendary coach Gordie Gillespie to see if he would put in a good word with Senffner.

Gillespie’s response: ‘‘Matty was my guard at [Joliet] Catholic High,’’ Napoleon recalled. ‘‘I’ll give him a call right now.’’

By the time he got back to Danville, Senffner had called and invited him back for a second interview. Napoleon got the job and added 139 victories in five seasons.

‘‘I loved my time at Providence, absolutely loved it,’’ Napoleon said. ‘‘If it wasn’t for the New Trier opening, I would still be at Providence.’’

He arrived in Winnetka in 1997 and has been there ever since, piling up victories and honors along the way. There have been 19 regional titles, 10 sectional championships and five state trophies, including titles in 2000 (Class AA) and 2009 (Class 4A).

Napoleon hasn’t been alone in his time at New Trier. Assistants Pete Drevline and Scott Klipowicz have been on board for 21 seasons and more than 500 victories.

‘‘It’s a lot easier when you have guys you can trust,’’ Napoleon said, pointing out the effort needed to keep everyone on the Trevians’ 29-man roster engaged in practice.

Another of Napoleon’s assistants needs no introduction to Chicago fans: Kerry Wood.

‘‘He’s been a great resource for our kids,’’ Napoleon said of the former Cubs star. ‘‘I keep telling them, ‘Do you guys realize what you’ve got here?’ ’’

Napoleon realizes what he has: a supportive administration and parents, trusted assistants and a talent pool that replenishes itself.

‘‘I’ve been pretty fortunate,’’ he said. ‘‘I’ve had pretty good health, I’ve had great teams and I’ve stayed with it. A lot of young coaches get out.’’

Napoleon said he plans to teach for one more year but isn’t putting a limit on how long he’ll coach. He admitted chasing 1,000 victories has crossed his mind.

‘‘I enjoy doing what I do,’’ Napoleon said. ‘‘When it’s not fun to go to the park, I’ve got to call it quits.’’

Almost 40 years into a historic head-coaching career, he doesn’t see that day on the horizon.

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