CHICAGO | St. Francis de Sales High School is daring to be different, stepping out of the box and looking to make progress.
Some might ask, "How dare they think big?" Well, why not? Maybe it isn't thinking big, but thinking wisely.
On Tuesday, school president Ray Nedohon and athletic director Greg Modzelewski announced the hiring of former Chicago Bulls player Jeff Sanders as director of basketball operations and former Notre Dame football player Tom Gullickson as director of football operations. They are not head coaches, but they will oversee everything in their respective programs, from academics to eligibility to equipment.
Modzelewski called it something that is unprecedented at the high school level. Sanders and Gullickson are almost general managers.
It not totally new as Modzelewski said this was the model he used in England when he rebuilt an under-performing basketball program at the University of Northumbria in Newcastle.
When he got the athletic director's job, he told me that the success of the school, not just athletics, is having a program or system and making it work at St. Francis de Sales.
"I have a program, a foundation in place," Modzelewski said in January. "It is a system of being involved in the community. It is community-based."
There is no doubt St. Francis de Sales is big a part of Ewing Avenue and the East Side community. Despite the mills being gone for over 20 years, that blue-collar work ethic is ingrained in the people of the East Side and Hegewisch, much like the streets named after the alphabet.
What Modzelewski and president Ray Nedohon mean is they want to reach out to not just the community, but to their community of alumni, who are pretty successful. They didn't rush into any plan for the sake of having a plan. They thought this out and put the right people in place. They may have stepped on a few toes and may have made some unpopular decisions, but if this works out in the long run, the school will be a much better place, enrollment-wise and athletically.
Sanders and Gulllickson are big names who will bring attention to the school.
With enrollment down the last few years, it would have been easy to do nothing and wait for the doorbell to ring. Instead, they took charge and went out and looked to better their school.
Sure, athletics is just a small part of it, but it gets tuition-paying bodies in the desks and that is what a parochial school needs to stay in business. Nedohon said enrollment is up to 225 for the upcoming school year and a few more could come in.
While the school is stressing more than winning, it wants to have success on the field and courts, and has in some sports. A kid can go to St. Francis and not have to specialize. A small school needs multi-sport athletes and the coaches understand they must share. Heck, they are all in this together. There is nothing wrong with becoming a small-school power.