Hoerster, Huskies inspire each other

Several Huskies, Friars and Blazers also contributed to year full of memories

June 11th, 2019 10:29 AM

After recovering from a heart attack last summer, OPRF head football coach John Hoerster guided the Huskies to an 8-3 record, conference championship and postseason win over New Trier. (File photo)

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Melvin Tate

Contributing Reporter

With the conclusion of the IHSA Class 3A and 4A baseball and softball state tournaments this past weekend, the 2018-2019 high school sports year has come to an end. 

I haven't done a Tate's Take column in some time, so I'd like to mention my favorite memory of the past high school sports year. The inspirational story of Oak Park and River Forest head football coach John Hoerster and the Huskies offered the feel-good story of the year.

While on a family vacation last July, Hoerster suffered a major heart attack and was briefly in a coma. The situation could have been worse if there had not been a relative who knew CPR among the traveling party. Hoerster spent several days at a Virginia hospital before being allowed to fly home.

There were legitimate concerns that Hoerster may not be able to coach the Huskies for the 2018 season. But, his determination showed during the recovery process and allowed him to attend the season opener at home against Waubonsie Valley. Hoerster coached from the press box as OPRF lost 24-17 to the Warriors. 

Yet, the fight and spirit he displayed during his recovery served as tremendous inspiration for the Huskies, who went on to finish the season 8-3 and atop the West Suburban Conference Silver Division for the first time since 1998. OPRF notched several impressive wins along the way, including an emotional 10-7 triumph at Glenbard West on October 12 thanks to Henry Darrow's game-winning 43-yard field goal with three seconds left in regulation. The clutch kick secured the Huskies' first win at Duchon Field in 20 years. 

I covered the next game on October 18, a 48-0 shutout over Lyons Township that gave the Huskies a share of the conference title with Glenbard West and Hinsdale Central. Hoerster coached from the sideline for the first time. Afterwards, I could tell he was very happy to be back on the field with his players, who were very excited about what they had accomplished and eager to embark on a long postseason run.

The Huskies got off to an auspicious start in the Class 8A playoffs with a 34-16 home rout of New Trier in the first round. I was there for OPRF's next game at top-seeded Brother Rice. Spurred by Eastern Illinois University signee Trevon Brown's sensational all-around effort, the Huskies gave maximum effort on the field. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough as the Crusaders prevailed 27-17. 

Still, the loss didn't diminish what was probably the most memorable season on the gridiron in several years by OPRF.

"I'm going to miss the hell out of them," Hoerster said about the OPRF seniors. "It's an amazing group of young men. We didn't know how good we could be, but we knew we were going to have tremendous leadership from the senior class."

And with exciting players such as quarterback Jaden McGill, running back Nazareth Bryant, defensive end Naahlyee Bryant and linebacker Daemyen Middlebrooks returning in the fall, look for the Huskies to be in hot pursuit of their eighth consecutive playoff berth (further extending the school record) and another West Suburban Silver title.

Some other memorable games I covered were Fenwick's nail-biting girls volleyball win over OPRF; the OPRF boys basketball team continuing its conference dominance, (winning the Silver for the third straight season); sparkling individual efforts in basketball by the likes of OPRF's Anthony Roberts and Ahsha Spencer, Fenwick's Bryce Hopkins, and Trinity's Makyiah Williams; and Fenwick's girls' soccer team having a strong season en route to reaching a Class 2A supersectional, where it lost to eventual 2A champion Benet. 

Nazareth Academy's Annie Stritzel turned in the the best individual performance I saw all year. The Harvard-bound star almost single-handedly defeated host Fenwick in a 3A sectional final. Stritzel poured in 33 points as the Roadrunners prevailed 46-37. The Friars likely would have advanced downstate had it not been for Stritzel's hoops heroics.

My biggest regret is that I didn't get to see the Fenwick girls hockey team, which won its first state title in program history. With players from five different schools (Fenwick, Guerin Prep, OPRF, Trinity, York) comprising the team, the Friars offered a unique blend of talent that came together at the right time. I hope to catch a game or two next year.

Thank you to all the coaches and student-athletes at OPRF, Fenwick and Trinity for their participation in interviews, phone calls, texts and emails. You guys made my job so much easier. I would also like to thank several parents and fans who complimented my work this season. I truly appreciate your comments and support.

See you in the fall!

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  • Melvin Tate (Facebook Verified)

    Posted: June 18th, 2019 7:14 PM

    Jim, I appreciate your kind words. Not only for this column, but you have always been enthusiastic and supportive in the comments section about my work. Writing about high school sports is something that I love with a passion and I think it really showed in my body of work this past school year. I'm fortunate that there are three great schools to cover in the area - OPRF, Fenwick, and Trinity. All have great kids led by great coaches.

  • Jim Frenkel (Facebook Verified)

    Posted: June 11th, 2019 2:52 PM

    Glad to see you back, Melvin. Was missing your insights and humor. Totally agree with your highlights for the year, especially the story of Coach Hoerster and his Huskies.

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