Kleinschmidt lands 'my dream job'

Kleinschmidt lands 'my dream job'
April 18, 2012, 6:20 pm

Tom Kleinschmidt is a Catholic Leaguer at heart. His roots are buried deep at Gordon Tech. In 1990, he led the basketball team to one of the most significant achievements in school history. So it isn't surprising to see him return as the Rams' new coach.But it wasn't a no-brainer. Sure, it is the "dream job" that he often thought about during his spectacular college career at DePaul and his professional career in Japan. But leaving York after one season as head coach was a "tough" decision."I had some great kids at York," Kleinschmidt said. "I had great parents, too. Usually you hear war stories about parents and their involvement with the program but I had wonderful relationships. The school made it easy for me."York, like many city and suburban schools, is undergoing budget cuts. The Elmhurst school recently laid off 10 teachers. Coaching assignments were being cut. The administration couldn't guarantee Kleinschmidt a job beyond the current year. "It was a year-to-year thing," he said.Kleinschmidt had enjoyed his first season as a head coach. York finished 22-9 after a 4-7 start. The Dukes won 13 in a row and 18 of their last 19, including a victory in the Martin Luther King tournament at Galesburg. They lost to Lake Park by four in the regional final.After he retired from basketball a few years ago, Gordon Tech approached him and inquired if he was interested in coaching. But he didn't have a degree. He returned to DePaul to complete his education, served on DePaul coach Jerry Wainwright's staff for two years, then went to York.After last season, Gordon Tech coach Shay Boyle resigned to join the staff at Notre Dame in Niles. Once again, Gordon Tech called to see if Kleinschmidt was interested in the job."My situation was in a flux," he said. "I interviewed for the job. York knew about it. After six weeks, they still couldn't give me a guarantee that I'd have a job at York. So I decided to take the Gordon Tech job. I got a hefty raise to come to Gordon Tech. In fact, I'll make more money than at York. I'll teach physical education and speech and I'll go back to college to get my teaching certificate. It is a win-win situation for everyone."Kleinschmidt had more to work with at York. He leaves behind three starters from last year's squad, including 6-foot-7 forward Frank Toohey and David Cohn, one of the best point guards in the state. And last year's sophomore squad was 20-5."I left a good situation. Last year, we finished second in the conference with two sophomores and a junior. This year, we figure to contend for the conference title," he said. "In one year, we made a lot of progress. The kids bought into my system. It's tough to leave. It wasn't a good four weeks thinking about leaving. The kids were continuously on my mind. But finally, I had to do what was best for me."At Gordon Tech, he inherits five of the top seven players from a 14-15 team that lost to Rockford Lutheran in the Class 2A sectional final. But the Rams are saddled with a 31-game conference losing streak. This year's trip to the sectional final marked their first since 2000.It isn't the way it used to be. In 1980, when Tom Winiecki coached Gordon Tech to the state football championship, the school had an enrollment of 2,000 boys. Today, the enrollment is 400 boys and girls. Gone are the days when the basketball teams of coaches Dick Versace, Dan Chubrilo, Bob Ociepka, Steve Pappas and Scott Bogumill dominated the Catholic League and ranked among the best in the state."It's a different atmosphere and culture than when I played," Kleinschmidt said. "Some people still are there who were there when I was there. But this is something I wanted all along. I was hopeful that I could go back and help Gordon Tech as they helped me. But it wasn't an easy decision. It wasn't about money."At York, you can't recruit. At Gordon Tech, I have to get out and outwork people and persuade kids to come to Gordon Tech who have been going to Whitney Young, Lane Tech, Fenwick, Notre Dame, Loyola and St. Ignatius. It's all about re-establishing relationships in the community."I can capitalize on my name. It might get me in the door. But it won't close the deal. They have to buy into what I am telling them. I have to sell them on the person I am and how I can help their kids. I have to show up for football games. I remember that coach Pappas came to my baseball games. He must want me, I thought to myself. I have to be visible. I have no problem going to Welles Park or Horner Park. I used to hang out with their fathers."So Kleinschmidt will be re-establishing relationships at the neighborhood parishes that once stocked Gordon Tech with football and basketball talent, including Queen of Angels, St. Benedict, St. Gertrude, St. Hilary, St. Malachi and St. Andrew, all within a two-mile radius of the school. Parents and potential athletes will be asking some of the same questions that Kleinschmidt asked when he interviewed for the job. Yes, he asked about the future of Gordon Tech. In recent years, there have been rumors that it might close ever since Kleinschmidt graduated in 1991. But he was assured that the school won't close. Enrollment has increased by 10, 10 and 20 percent in the last three years.He blames the economic downturn and changes in the neighborhood for the decline of the basketball program at Gordon Tech. When he attended the school, the tuition was 1,250 a year. Now it is 8,500. And that is lowest prices for a Catholic school education in the Chicago area compared to tuitions of 1,400 to 1,600 at Fenwick, Loyola or St. Ignatius."There are positive signs. The neighborhoods are coming back. Catholic grade schools are turning kids away. They aren't on decline anymore," he said. "I've got to do it like I always do it--outwork people, get in the gyms, extend my hand to alumni and old-timers and old friends. I look forward to playing in the Catholic League again."One of his first stops will be at annual Catholic League Hall of Fame dinner on May 3.