Homewood-Flossmoor's Ken Shultz is a Hall of Famer

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Homewood-Flossmoor's Ken Shultz is a Hall of Famer

In his 26 years as a high school administrator, Ken Shultz experienced two embarrassing moments--when an unknowing groundskeeper painted a coach's box behind second base and when he was hosting a regional soccer tournament, turned on a recording of the National Anthem and realized he had forgotten to raise the American flag.

But the crowning achievement of his career was when he orchestrated the first random drug testing program for student-athletes at a high school in the United States.

Even if he hadn't accomplished anything else, that alone is enough to earn the retired athletic director at Homewood-Flossmoor a spot in the fourth Hall of Fame class of the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (NIAAA).

Shultz will be one of 10 athletic directors to be inducted on Dec. 18 during banquet festivities at the 43rd annual National Athletic Directors Conference at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center in San Antonio, Texas.

"When I got a letter from the National Federation, I was surprised," said Shultz, who retired in 2005 and is living in Leesburg, Florida. "You go through a career and do your job and hope you do it to the best of your ability. But you don't think about awards.

"It is very humbling to be recognized by your peers. But this award wouldn't have been possible without H-F, the Illinois Athletic Directors Association and the NIAAA. All of those things go into an award like this, not something I did. You have to have a lot of opportunities in your career."

Shultz made the most of his opportunities. He served as president of the Illinois Athletic Directors Association for one year and served on the organization's board of directors for nine years. At H-F, he supervised 28 varsity sports and 1,400 athletes, 120 coaches, the intramural program involving 1,500 participants, 100 extra-curricular clubs involving 2,000
students, dances, proms, homecomings and a 1 million budget.

But he will be remembered most of all for his courageous decision to launch a random drug-testing program for student-athletes at H-F, only the second school in the country to do it. And he can thank former football coach John Wrenn for that.

"He (Wrenn) came to me and said: 'I have kids I suspect are using illegal substances. I can't prove it but they need help. We need a way to identify kids who need help.' It wasn't a witch hunt or a punitive program. It was a way to help children," Shultz said.

So Shultz, Wrenn and other coaches and staff members spent about five months doing research and putting a plan together. They talked to doctors, hospitals, parents, even the ACLU. "All the coaches were on board but we had to sell the community," Shultz said.

They did the first drug test on Jan. 16, 1990. H-F received national publicity. Shultz appeared on many news outlets, including "The Today Show" and "Good Morning America" and other national news networks.

"Each week, we selected 30 kids at random," he said. "The program was designed to help kids, to help them reject peer pressure. We put it in place for 10 drugs and steroids. It still is in place today. It has lasted the test of time. And there have been no lawsuits. We did it right.

"We helped some kids. It is a good program for H-F. Most people think they can take care of drug issue through education and health classes. But people don't own up to the fact that they have a problem. This program also takes pressure off parents. But you have to commit to the program. Some schools have to live off gate receipts so a drug program is too expensive."

A graduate of Valley High School in West Des Moines, Iowa, in 1966, Shultz participated in cross-country, basketball, baseball and track. He majored in physical education at the University of Illinois, graduating in 1970 and obtaining his masters degree in 1971.

"I wanted to coach," he said. "I had outstanding coaches in high school who were role models. I wanted to be a PE teacher and coach."

He married Kathy, his high school sweetheart, after his freshman year at Illinois and she worked to help him get through school.

He taught and coached at Western Illinois University for two years, then coached at Morris High School for six years. While at Morris, he got turned off to coaching and decided that sports administration would be a better career path.

"At Morris, I got the idea of what it is like to be a not-so-desirable athletic director," he said. "Coaches had to do their own scheduling, budgets, raise money, busing. After six years, I realized that is what an athletic director does. It whet my appetite for getting into athletic administration."

Shultz obtained his certificate and was hired as associate athletic director under John Stanley at H-F. After two years, he knew that he wanted to be an athletic director. But he had to pay his dues. He went to North Olmstead, Ohio, as district athletic director. After two years, he returned to H-F. He had his dream job. He never left again.

The key to being a successful athletic director, someone who is involved with the most visible aspects of everything that goes on at one of the state's most prestigious high schools?

"Surround yourself with good people," Shultz said. "You have to delegate things. You can't be everywhere 247. You get people who like kids. Then the programs will thrive. We always had good facilities. Coaches see that as a great plus. I tried to provide an environment where coaches can be successful and then get out of their way, allow them to coach kids and deal with kids."

According to Shultz, there are two kinds of leadership--management and leadership. A manager makes sure the buses show up and officials show up and arranges for the scheduling of events. But leadership is the inter-action of coaches and people.

"You have to be a good listener, a problem-solver," he said. "At my retirement party, (basketball coach) Roy Condotti said I was Mr. Problem-Solver. He said: 'When I came to him with a problem he fund a way to solve it.' I appreciated that comment more than anything else, that a coach had confidence to come to me. You have to be able to communicate to coaches."

His philosophy? To expand opportunities for student-athletes. The first thing he did when he was hired at H-F was to add seven sports. He had\ orientation meetings for kids and parents. He organized 96 teams in 28 sports, including freshman A, B and C squads.

"If you can't find something outside the classroom, you aren't looking," he said. "I cringe at specialization. I understand a coach's position. But a 5-foot-8 freshman basketball player might be 6-foot-5 as a junior. I believe you should let kids have an opportunity to enjoy all sports. They will choose their favorite sport by themselves as a junior."

But winning is important. "I would be lying if I said it wasn't," he said. He fired eight coaches in 22 years. But it wasn't so much because they were 0-9 but because they couldn't relate to their kids.

"You get a good barometer from the athletes," Shultz said. "I popped in at practices to see how things were going. I looked at how kids were reacting in practice, their energy, whether they were listening, if there was good communication, if they were treating each other with respect.

"I had to release some coaches with good records who didn't interact with kids. A coachathlete relationship is most important. Are kids enjoying their experience? You will lose them if they aren't having fun.

"An athletic director has to be pro-active. His job is so intense. You end up being reactive. You can't anticipate everything. But the longer you are in the profession, you can see if something is leading down the wrong road."

What about parents? Some cynical, longtime coaches argue that high school sports would be a wonderful experience--without parents. Shultz understands their frustration. But the reality of the situation--parents won't go away--means an athletic director must find a way to deal with the issue. Or it will become an issue.

"You have to channel their energies in a positive direction," he said. "In 26 years, I saw parents become more involved. They have a big investment in their kids...off-season competition, college scholarships. The first thing is to get the parents on your side."

Shultz organized "Meet the Coach Night," a series of preseason meetings between coaches and parents. "Parents can be your greatest advocate. You have to communicate with them. Don't be afraid to talk to parents. A coach has to have a thick skin. The worst thing is to shut out the parents. They can be a great support element for the programs," he said.

At H-F, Shultz said parents were involved. They wanted to hear about training rules, the random drug testing program and coaching rules.

"We did a good job of bridging the gap between parents and coaches," he said. "You must embrace the job. You must have a passion for the job. It is a journey. I enjoyed the challenges each day. You never know what will happen each day. There is always the unexpected each day. Every day isn't a great day. But as you go through that adversity, you will be stronger.

"It isn't a job that anyone can do. What do you need to do to be successful? You must be organized. You have to be a good communicator and problem-solver. And you have to have a good secretary. So many people look at the job as a destination. But it is a journey."

Today, Shultz enjoys life in his retirement community 40 miles north of Orlando, south of Ocala. He plays golf, works out and swims in the pool every day.

"But," he said with certainty, "there is nothing to get the juices going like going into an athletic director's job every day and not knowing what will happen, what challenges you will face that day."

Patience and perseverance: trying to make, and stay in, the NHL

Patience and perseverance: trying to make, and stay in, the NHL

Corey Crawford remembers his early days with the Blackhawks, the times where he was working his tail off in Rockford to get a call-up or hoping he would be the one they would choose to stay out of training camp. The thought would creep into his head: “maybe I never get there.”

“Yeah, I probably shouldn’t tell you that but there were a bunch of times,” Crawford said with a smile. 

Crawford had a lot of good times, a lot of valuable experiences with the IceHogs. But he always kept his eye on the main goal: making the NHL. Twice he’s been named an NHL All-Star. Twice he’s been a winner or shared the William Jennings Trophy. Twice he’s won Stanley Cups. He can look back and smile now at those days when he wasn’t sure if he’d latch onto a team.

Making the NHL is tough. Staying there can be even tougher. The pressures and expectations are enormous, especially the higher you go in the NHL draft. Be it patience, willing to change your game or the need to try over with another organization, players do whatever it takes to get that opportunity.

“The mental side of the game for a lot of these draft choices or these on-the-cusp, on-the-edge players is the hardest part,” Rockford coach Ted Dent said. “The physical aspect, keeping yourself in shape and being a good hockey player isn’t the battle. It’s usually the mental side of things, the expectations, the pressure they put on themselves, maybe their families, their agents or whatever comes with it. It’s a side that gets overlooked a little bit.”

“I did whatever it would take.”

Patrick Sharp spent a few years at the University of Vermont but for him, his career choice was clear: he was going to be a pro hockey player no matter what. Coming up through the Philadelphia Flyers’ system (Sharp was their 95th overall pick in the 2001 draft), finding an opportunity was tough the early 2000s. The Flyers had their goal scorers – John LeClair, Michal Handzus, Mark Recchi, Tony Amonte and Jeremy Roenick were among them. So to get a chance Sharp changed his game and came up as a fourth-line checker.

“I looked at the team I had in Philly – couple of Hall of Famers, a lot of all-stars. I realized that, although I was an AHL all-star and I was putting up points, I probably wasn’t going to do with the Flyers. I had to do what I could to make that team,” Sharp said. “Be more physical, fighting, I did whatever it would take.

“Every player has been a star at some level of their career. That’s why they’re in the situation they’re in,” Sharp said. “Each player has a different path, a different role. It’s important for that player to have communication and find out what they want from him. What’s going to help him get to that next level and apply it? It’s easy at a young age to think, ‘I’ve got a good game.’ It’s not always the case. It’s a 200-foot game, special teams. Communication’s the key.”

Jack Skille had a similar situation. Skille was highly touted coming out of the U.S. National Development Program and the Blackhawks selected him seventh overall in the 2005 draft. He left the University of Wisconsin-Madison early and would later sign an entry-level deal with the Blackhawks. For years, Skille said people tried to tell him he’d need a different game to stay in the NHL, but it took him time to realize that. Now a regular starter for the Vancouver Canucks in more of a checking role, Skille said he’s happy and having fun with the game.

“I think that was the biggest adjustment coming here and in the role I play: [realizing] less is more. It took me a long time, as a young kid, to realize that. It took a lot of mistakes over my career and a lot of growing pains to finally get to the point where I was like, what everyone’s telling me, less is more and they’re right. I finally bought into it and it’s been working,” Skille said. “It’s an adjustment because you’re used to sitting there, being one of the go-to guys and out there every single shift. But there’s something to be said for guys who don’t get frequent shifts out there and keep playing the same way with a lot of energy.”

The sounding board

Dent’s office is in a perfect spot at BMO Harris Center, located between the IceHogs’ locker room and the players’ lounge. From his office, Dent can gauge what mood his players are in, and which ones are down and could use a talk.

This is as much part of a minor-league coach’s job as the coaching itself. The Blackhawks’ organization has a mental skills coach who is sometimes in Rockford but, for the day-to-day, Dent is that guy.

“You try to form that bond and relationship with them. For them to get their feelings off their chest is a big thing because they hold so many feelings in, in a group setting,” Dent said. “You want to be that strong, tough guy like all hockey players. But inside a lot of them have a lot of emotion that needs to get out. You try to be that sounding board for them and let them get some things out one-on-one.”

Crawford had his ears to bend when he was in Rockford – at that time Bill Peters was head coach and Dent was assistant. Crawford said those talks helped but ultimately, it came down to him.

“They’re not going to be there when you go home. They’re not going to make choices for you. You really have to learn that on your own,” Crawford said. “Maybe [you get pep talks] a little bit from your teammates but a lot of those guys, too, were guys I was growing up with and going through all that stuff with. It’s just one of those things where you get a feel for how you’re supposed to think and to battle through things and try to stay positive.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

“I expected to be in the NHL this year…”

Michael Latta was happy when he was traded to the IceHogs in January. He’s getting more minutes, more opportunity than he was in his short stay with the Ontario Reign, the Los Angeles Kings’ minor-league team. But there’s no doubt Latta, who spent a few seasons with the Washington Capitals, wants another chance at the NHL.

“I expected to be in the NHL this year with LA. I really did. And it didn’t work out,” said Latta, who was selected 72nd overall by the Nashville Predators in 2009. “But I believe I can play in the NHL; I can be a factor in the NHL. So I’m really hoping I can get a chance up there just to show [the Blackhawks] what I can do. They don’t know me very well so it’d be nice to go up there and get a shot. Just get a chance to show them and see what they think.”

At the same time, Latta wants to play as much as possible. For bubble guys like him, that doesn’t always happen in the NHL. In Rockford he’s playing a lot of minutes, getting a lot of opportunities, and he’s taking advantage of it.

“I’d played eight minutes a night, which is fine. You’re living the dream, playing in the NHL. But I was excited to come down and get my scoring touch back, get some ice time, some power play time,” Latta said. “To come here and get it and start playing, it’s been special. It’s been a lot of fun. I’m just really enjoying it again. Hockey’s fun again.”

It’s not easy to make the NHL but the opportunity is worth it for many. For those trying to latch on, or latch on again, the work continues. For those who made it, there’s the appreciation for what it took to get here.

“Every experience teaches you something, even if it’s negative. The negative ones seem to stick with people more and that’s where you get to learn things,” Crawford said. “It’s tough, especially when there are stretches when you don’t get a sniff at coming up and it seems like you’re going to be there for the rest of your career. Then there are other times you’re really confident and you feel you should be in the NHL. That’s all about learning, learning to stay level headed and not get too down or too high. Just work hard, have fun.”

Fast Break Morning Update: Blackhawks win, Jimmy Butler starts All-Star Game

Fast Break Morning Update: Blackhawks win, Jimmy Butler starts All-Star Game

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