By Joseph Bell
Somebody somewhere made another awful mistake.
Enter Mike Zilkofski, a family man living in Johnsonburg, working at the paper mill, working his way up, providing for his family.
He doubles as the resilient head coach of Johnsonburg's girls' varsity basketball team for the past five years, a squad of stars who have advanced to the playoffs in four of the last five seasons.
To paint the unhappy and complicated picture, after years of coaching the varsity program as well as preparing the players at the junior high school level as well, the consistent coach decided enough was enough.
The following in an excerpt from an article published Tuesday, Feb. 1. Mike's team had just dropped a 65-30 game to the visiting Kane Lady Wolves Jan. 31:
The game served as a fitting backdrop for Zilkofski as he announced his resignation effective following the conclusion of the 2010-2011 season.
"I have a granddaughter in New York and I'm using all my vacation and trades at work, and that's getting harder at work and I'm starting to move up the ladder," Zilkofski said. "It's just wear and tear on my body going into work at 4 a.m. and trying to coach.
"It's just getting to be a bit much so I'm going to start using my vacation time for my granddaughter instead of basketball. She's four months old so I can spend some of the summers with her."
For those of you who don't know the story, at this year's end-of-the-season banquet March 21 to honor his basketball team, Mike decided against his resignation and retracted it, indicating that after talking it over with his family again, they helped him see how much he really loves coaching and he decided that his time was not yet finished:
"I just kept thinking about it and thinking about it. It's not fair to [assistant coach/junior varsity coach Melissa Myers] because she's been coaching her daughter [Kiana Myers] her whole high school career and she has one year left," Zilkofski said. "It's something special that we do so that when we get older we tell our grandchildren that we coached our children during their high school careers."
According to sources familiar with the situation, members of the athletic committee within the district's school board did not like that Mike first resigned, then retracted his decision. With that, they told him he was finished coaching girls basketball for Johnsonburg. Heartless school board, heartless.
Here's a guy with a career mark of 57 wins and 60 losses, good enough for four playoff appearances, with a career high of 17-9 in 2008-2009, and with 1,000-plus point scorer Abby Grumley as his star player over his five seasons as head coach.
Does anyone realize how difficult it is to be a successful head coach at the high school level, especially with the amount of ridicule coaches are expected to swallow nowadays at the hands of parents, school officials and community members?
I don't have to waste time reminding community members of the many teams in this area that are unable to compete with other schools because of lack of coaching tutelage and the quintessential "revolving door" of coaches that seems to plague some of the teams. Some school board officials just don't get it: continuity and consistency is what will lead to success.
Nobody fired Gary Gerber II when his softball team struggled and now they routinely advance to the playoffs.
Nobody would give Jeff Peterson the ax if his team had an off-year and he now has a band of young baseball players who are maturing and looking to make some noise in the coming years.
Nobody told Mark Heindl to take a hike after his football teams have consistently posted sub-.500 records.
The Ridgway Elkers baseball team was nowhere near playoff form this year but rest assured Mark Morelli will be back next year. Somewhere along the line, somebody figured out that consistency and continuity with head coaches will lead to successful athletic programs.
It's shameful and asinine that this seemingly does not apply to Mike Zilkofski, and it's a ridiculous move to not have him as the head coach. I for one am sorry to see him go.