CHICAGO HEIGHTS | Marian Catholic baseball coach Phil Wail does not hide his love of history, particularly anything connected with the Revolutionary and Civil wars.
A. U.S. history teacher at Heritage Middle School in Lansing, Wall found some solace and followed some advice from the Civil War era in Donald T. Phillips's book: "Lincoln on Leadership." The book is on how to be an effective leader and it piqued Wail's attention.
"Lincoln was able to bring the country together during one of our worst times, the Civil War," Wail said. "When he was putting together the Emancipation Proclamation, it tells of the nasty letters he got and how he persevered."
While the dilemma with the Marian team was not as severe, Wail and his team endured some tough moments, and Wail some nasty barbs from parents. The Spartans were expected to do well, but hit a mid-season slump and lost some close games and some confidence as they finished the regular season at 18-17. Wail knew he had to be an effective leader if his team was to reach its potential in the postseason.
Wail and the team got it together at the right time and went on a postseason run which culminated with a Class 3A state title. The Spartans beat Simeon 1-0 in eight innings in the Standard Bank Stadium Supersectional, then beat Nazareth Academy and LaSalle-Peru at Joliet's Sivler Cross Field to win it all.
Marian has the most losses of any state title baseball team in Illinois history. What could have been a turn for the worse turned out having the Spartans on top of the baseball world. For his leading Marian to a state title, Wail is The Times Coach of the Year.
Wail said when Lincoln's generals were not carrying out his initiatives, the president would write nasty letters and then tear them up. Wail took his approach a little more high tech.
"There were a few times when I wrote some nasty, long emails to people, then just didn't send them," Wail said. "It made me feel relaxed and I felt better."
Wail said it wasn't all him.
"The players bought into what I wanted them to do," Wail said. "I could not have done it without my staff. I guess the one thing was learning patience, which I didn't have last year. We were up and down, and my job was to stay positive. It was hard, but if the kids see me as staying positive, that carries over to them."
A tough schedule and some injuries, including some mid-season arm soreness for Times Player of the Year Brett Lilek didn't help. The Spartans took their lumps, but Wail said they improved and realized what they could accomplish.
"We had the talent and we knew that when we went to Florida for spring break," Wail said. "Our tough schedule, I think that prepares you for the postseason and it certainly helped us. We lost a few, I think eight one-run games. By the end of the year, we were not blowing big leads, and when we were down a few runs, we knew we could come back."
An example was in a T.F. North Regional semifinal when Evergreen Park scored five times in the second inning, but Marian then scored five a few innings later. It had to hang on for a win.
"A few weeks before, I don't know if we would have come back or held them off," Wail said. "That shows how tough our kids are and how determined they are."