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20

Oct, 2017

WAA Turns 40 - Chapter 9

To read from the start of the series, please go to the bottom of the page to Chapter 1.  Additional chapters will be added to the top of the page.

Chapter 9

While the purchase and the development of Play USA and the Liberty St property (Gentile Field) was the dominant focus of the 90’s, several events would shape our future and keep our staff and board on course. The nearby Oakhurst subdivision was growing up and our board saw a large influx of directors from that subdivision. They would form the backbone of our board and staff for many years.

In 1993 we signed a 5 year lease for an office space on Schoger Rd. We had out grown soccer Lori’s home and needed storage and space for several additional new employees. In early 1994 we hired Lynne Mullany. Over the next decade many staff members and directors would come and go but Lynne would always be there doing whatever it took to get the job done, i.e. line fields, move goals, stuff bags, parent meetings and run tournaments (Team Chicago).

By 1997 we were ready to move into the Play USA building where we are today. Our office staff was comprised of 5 paid employees and one volunteer member. With the new facility the Wheatland Soccer Club (boys traveling) had decided to rejoin WAA and Team Chicago was born. We had girls traveling but the boys program broke off in 1990. It would take two to three years of trial and error to settle on a structure that all parties could live with.

Over the next three years (97-98-99), WAA would complete several other community projects. In January of 1998 we received a letter from William Donnell, Superintendent of Parks for the Fox Valley Park District. The letter outlined the details for building a 58 car parking lot next to the West Middlebury detention fields off of Montgomery Rd. We supplied the capital (26,000) and they did the labor. The results were two full size soccer fields that the public as well as W.A.A. were able to use. We turned 2 detention ponds into 2 athletic fields. Our Thanks go out to Bill Donnell and Bob Vaughn for making this happen.

The other projects that we helped with were smaller in scope. The Wheatland Township supervisor and his board had voted to build a park on 127th two blocks east of RT 59. Our role would be to act as a consultant and donate cash when needed. Today, it has a baseball diamond, soccer field and a small pavilion.

The last notable project was the drainage project at the Ridge Park Baseball fields next to Gombert Elementary School. We still had many logistical problems to solve but we were learning to work with growth. In 1991, we has 5000 participants. In 2002 we reached 10,000 participants. Five years later in 2007 we would peak at 15,000. We needed more land and more fields!

Chapter 8 The Plot Thickens

When we purchased the Youngen farm the property was unincorporated and outside the city limits. This meant that it was subject to the Plat Act. Our board wanted to sell two acres of the total eight to Hudson Fortune, so he could build his indoor soccer arena. The problem was that you could not subdivide a plat into two plots in Dupage County. We had to go through annexation into the city of Aurora before we could spin off and subdivide our property. As with any large project, Hudson and our board would assemble a very competent team to help us accomplish our task. I contacted my favorite lawyer, who I would use on many of our future projects, John Philpchuck. He was confident, knowledgeable, and he knew his way in and around the city of Aurora. He guided us through the annexation process, and as I said last month, we had our ground breaking ceremony on May 15, 1996. The Aurora Economic Development Commission and Old Second Bank Sponsored a lunch at Stonebridge Country Club for us after the ceremony.

My good friend, Jim Cannon, and his co-worker, Roger Schnorr, were present from Old Second Bank and gave WAA their financial backing. Nineteen years later both Jim Cannon and Roger Schnorr would be at the grand opening of our WAA Sports Center. Both Jim and Roger are great people and we still have a great business relationship with them.

With our financial and legal issues behind us, all we had to do was assemble a team to do the mass grading, fine grading, bring the water and electricity to the property, and build the building.  Calvary Temple in Naperville had recently disassembled their meeting building and the materials were stacked in a large pile on their property; which is now the location of All Saints School.  The city of Naperville was pressuring the church to get rid of the “pile of junk” and Hudson was happy to buy, move and reassemble the materials into what became a very serviceable building.

My role in developing the property was to hire people to do the fine grading, seeding and irrigation system. Hudson by far had the toughest task and that was to deal with the Aurora planning and development department and reassemble the building. Because the property was newly annexed into the city we had to supply a lot of our own infrastructure. Water and electrical conduits had to be bored under any existing road beds. We could not afford to light the fields in 1996. It would be another six years before we could handle that expense. With a project this large I needed somebody I could talk to for advice and I found that perfect “somebody” in Dave Molitor from “Molitor Ground and Maintenance”. I have a lot of respect for Dave. When you hire Dave, you get Dave, not the “B” team, and he will also try to educate you as to the why and how things need to be done.

When I look back it seemed almost impossible, but by August 1996 our board was making plans to move into our WAA office in the Play USA building, where we would be for the next 19 years. On Nov 1, Hudson Fortune was ready to take occupancy and the WAA indoor soccer program hosted 522 children for the first time.

Many businesses succeed or fail on their ability to adapt and grow. The acquisition of the eight acres on Liberty St. and the building of Play USA enabled WAA to remain competitive in the always changing youth sports market. 

Chapter 7 

In the late 80’s, Oakhurst, Stonebridge and even White Eagle were being developed. I was fortunate enough to employ, in my dental office, a great gal by the name of Sharon Norse. Sharon’s husband, Stan, was in charge of developing Oakhurst and Stonebridge Golf Course. Stan thought that the sound of children playing sports at the Oakhurst Community Center would attract families to the community and invited WAA to play soccer and basketball there on Saturdays. Our board at the time was comprised of more than half Oakhurst residents. Those residents would become the backbone of our organization for the next decade as their families grew. Hudson Fortune was one of these Oakhurst residents and he would play a pivotal role in our growth and development over the next 25 years.

Lori Wojcik ran our day to day operations out of her basement from 1989 to 1993.  She did it with grace and style and became known as Soccer Lori. Our growth was catching up to us.  Toward the end of 1993 we had out grown Lori’s garage and basement and we started to look for rental space. In 1994, our board signed a lease for the Schoger Road office property. Along with the new office came a new staff and our first hire was Lynne Mullany.  Lynne would take up where Lori left off and run the office for the next 12 years. The job did not come with a manual or a guide book but Lynne did her job exceedingly well under very trying circumstances. Lynne Mullany was a good friend and great co-worker.

Hudson Fortune joined our board in 1991 and for as long as I can remember he would talk about buying land to build a soccer field or a complex. With this in mind, we held another candy sale in the fall of 1995. We had looked at several properties over the previous 4 years but none had any real potential. Shortly after the candy sale, the Youngen property became available on Liberty Street in Aurora.  Don Youngen and his sister owned the farm property where Play USA and Gentile Field would ultimately be built. The Youngen’s liked the idea that children would use their property and that it would largely be open land. WAA purchased the Liberty Street property in November 1995. Six months later on May 15, 1996 we had our ground breaking ceremony.

This may all have sound very easy, but along the way our board was divided. Taking on a lease, a paid staff and a mortgage were big changes for our small volunteer organization.  Sadly, we lost a Vice President and a Treasurer due to differences in opinion over land acquisition and the cost.  All growing pains for Wheatland Athletics. 

Next month we’ll deal with the difference between and plat and a plot.


Volume 1 Chapter 6

Late 80’s -  Early 90’s
During the early years the one constant element that I remember most was Bob Diller. Under his guidance the WAA would enter the early 90’s with a paid administrator, Lori Wojick, who would work out of her house and be paid $1.25 per participant. Her garage was a warehouse for bats, baseballs, netting and just about anything sports related. Lori unselfishly turned her basement into a functional office with a phone bank and office equipment. She would do this for 5 years, in addition to raising three children. Slowly but surely it would become obvious that the WAA needed better facilities and a permanent office somewhere other than a garage or a basement.

To improve our facilities in 1989 it was decided to hold a candy sale. This would be the mother of all candy sales and the fact that I’m a dentist and I would be holding a candy sale was not lost on me. The logistics were staggering at first. We had 1,200 children playing soccer and had to order 20,000 lbs. of the World’s Finest Chocolate for them to sell. Where were we going to store all this product? Greg Fischer, the principal at Gregory Middle School, gave us use of his band room; that solved a big problem. On a Saturday in August a 16 wheeler showed up in front of Gregory Middle School; it was hot and threatening to rain at any moment.  While I tried to gain access to the school, our volunteers quickly unloaded thousands of boxes of candy from the truck to the front of the school.  The truck driver told us that the chocolate was ours, rain or shine, and it was going to melt outside; and soon. The slight drizzle that had started only added to our anxiety.  Eventually, we did get into the school and the candy sale was very successful. With the money from the fundraiser, we were able to build 3 new soccer fields and one baseball diamond, Diller Field at Gregory Middle School that we still utilize and maintain to this day. The soccer fields included the Gregory Middle School west field, used by the 204 Middle School soccer program, which is administered by WAA.   The sale also funded two fields at Ridge Park, which is the current site of Gombert Elementary School. 

After guiding the WAA for over 10 years, Bob Diller stepped down in 1989. In 1990 Kent Duffy, my good friend and soccer chairman, was elected President and served for 1 year. I would be next in line and continue to lend stability for our young organization.

The 90’s would usher in a period of unprecedented growth and prosperity for the school district and our organization. We would learn how to manage both and we would plan for future growth and expansion.

Volume 1 Chapter 5 Wheatland Athletic Association Turns 40!

The year was 1989 and our efforts to find new fields were not very successful. Clow school field would be a great place to play if it was not flooded by retained rain water all spring. The grass was always thick and wet but the field was level and it could accommodate two field sites. The solution was to drain the field. On paper the project was very simple. Farmers do it all the time to their wet fields. The first step was to identify the wet spots and then place the drain tiles and find the nearest storm sewer to take the water away. Backfilling with dirt and reseeding could be done at the appropriate time. At most the project should take two days and require no outside permission because it is entirely on school property. However, as we all know, nothing is all quite that simple when dealing with a school district that does not want the project done in the first place.

 

Peter Gombert was our contact at the school district (business manager 204). He was a straight forward administrator and not long on small talk. Under any other circumstances we would have very likely become good friends. We both grew up in the same neighborhood back in Chicago (Roseland) and we had that common experience to share with each other. As it turned out we never had that conversation. I think Peter just wanted our group to go away. He presented Lori Wojcik (soccer Lori) and myself one demand after another. The first demand was that we get a full topal map of the area. The second hurdle was to get permission from the T.E.D group, Transportation, Engineering and Development group of Naperville. When I contacted them, they wanted to know why I was asking their permission to dig a hole on school property. A very simple project that should have taken 3 days, actually took 9 months of planning and cost $3600.00. The Clow drainage project was a great success. It turned a swamp into two soccer fields. It also helped gain the trust of the school district. Encouraged by this our board looked for new projects. We had also hired our first employee and we would soon be holding our 1st ever candy sale.

Peter Gombert was not easy to work with but to his credit he was building schools and selling bond issues. John Andermann did the actual work on the field. Andermann Acres on 103rd St. near Rt 59 bears his family name. During really hot summers on Clow field the Y shape pattern of the drain tile can still be seen.

Volume 1 Chapter 4 Wheatland Athletic Association Turns 40!

During the late 80’s our board meetings were occupied with discussions on how to make recreational teams competitive and where to find new fields. We had about a thousand children playing for WAA and we were growing, however, we still had to play co-ed and combine age groups. That meant that the person putting a division together of 1st and 2nd graders had to balance the team by subdivision, by 1st and 2nd grade girls, (not to many of either age) and also 1st and 2nd grade boys. The situation would become very difficult if a neighborhood had 15 children, because then 3 children had to play (12 on a team) on a team outside the subdivision. Our philosophy was never to turn away a child.

In an effort to form new alliances, we turned to the Fox Valley Park District. As a new board member, (1987) I took the job of making the presentation to the Park District Board (1988). My story was simple. We needed fields, and I would ask “Can you help?” When I made my presentation, to my surprise, the older park board members were very uncertain about soccer catching on. They thought it was possibly just a fad that would fade away. At that time, the Naperville Park District had 2,000 children playing twice a year. We had 1,000 children playing twice a year. The entire city of Aurora had only 600 children playing soccer. Soccer had not come to the neighborhoods. The comment that I heard was that “soccer was in its infancy”. I looked around the board room that night and I saw the other board members that the WAA would eventually forge strong community relations with and do several outstanding park district projects with. The torch would just have to be passed to a new generation of leaders. It would take several years and a change in administration for this to happen.

We were still struggling with our business format. We did not have an office and we lacked proper storage. We had a mini financial set back one August when Bob Diller reported that his garage had over heated where he stored our inventory of soccer balls and several had exploded. Chip Ashworth, who was our traveling soccer coach, lost all our team’s uniforms when his wife threw them out on garbage day. Something had to be done and by the end of the eighties we would hire our first employee. She also came with a basement office. Soccer Lori was our bridge between a Ma and Pa volunteer organization and a legitimate business format.

Volume 1   Chapter 3  Wheatland Athletic Association Turns 40!

As the early 80’s gave way to the middle 80’s the WAA and the IPSD School District 204 started to grow. Superintendent Crone gave way to Tom Scullen and Hill Middle School was built. The 204 administration building was at the corner of Rt. 59 and Ogden Rd (NW corner), which is the present day site of the Shell gas station. Going West on Ogden you would see Metropolitan Life Insurance Company. Nothing unusual about that, however, across from this 3 story building was a sheep farm. This farm was located on a piece of property known as the triangle which was across from the Brock Farm to the South.

As always, soccer fields and baseball diamonds were very hard to find. In 1983, through Bob Diller’s efforts, we struck a deal with Calvary Temple for the use of their fields on Aurora Ave just west of Naperville Central High School. These four fields would service our needs until the church would move to their present location on Rt. 59 and Montgomery Rd.

Soccer was beginning to evolve and grow but there was still resistance at the high school level to pick the sport up. Dick Kerner was the athletic director and did not want the extra competition it would bring for the football program. Our solution was to petition the school board. It worked and thanks to John Broiher’s presentation to the school board, and Dick Kerner’s support at the high school, soccer arrived at Waubonsie. It would be several years before the high school would be competitive, but at least it was a start. Rudy Keller was the first coach, to be followed by Angelo Di Bernardo.

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Volume 1   Chapter 2  Wheatland Athletic Association Turns 40!

In trying to imagine what 1977 was like in this area, imagine Ogden as a two lane road lined with large trees on both sides. Madoff, Book and Gartner were still local farmers, not just street names. Waubonsie Valley High School was 2 years old and The Fox Valley shopping center was 3-4 years old. The largest club at Waubonsie High School was the Future Farmers of America and the success of the mall was still not certain. The Naperville Park Districts boundary stopped at 75th St. and the Fox Valley Park District would not have a strong presence in our area for at least 10 years.

It was the lack of services south of 75th St. and Rte. 59 in the unincorporated areas of school district 204 that would lead the North Wheatland Township Homeowners Association to start what would be the Wheatland Athletic Association.

The first registration was held in the fall of 1977 in Bob Diller’s garage, in which 66 kids would sign up for a T-ball program that was to be held in the spring of 1978. Soccer would be added in the spring of ’81. The names of the people who are usually credited with starting WAA are Bob Diller the 1st President, Jay Kobus, Dennis Hromadka and his wife Karen, and Bob Pancow. I would join the WAA as a coach in 1983 and most of these people were still around.

The cost of the soccer program was seven dollars and with that you got a pair of WAA socks. If a field needed to be lined, we used cones and striped it ourselves, “nothing fancy”, goals were moved by hand. Every once in a while a parent or board member would request that we repair a dangerous goal or fill in a pot hole on a field and thus began our tradition of field maintenance and giving back to the community.

During the early 80’s school referendums were difficult to pass and high interest rates cooled the housing markets. Our board would continue to work with school administration whose names were Tom Scullen and Peter Gombert and Fox Valley Park Administrators, Bob Vaughn. They would eventually be honored by having their names put on two school buildings and a park rec center. They were good people to work with. More about the middle 80’s next time.

Dr. Lawrence Gentile
President, WAA

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Chapter 1 - Happy 40th Anniversary WAA!

Happy New Year and best wishes to all of our extended WAA family and friends. This year, 2017, will mark our 40th Anniversary. To help celebrate this event over the next several months in this space I will be writing short articles or stories about what it was like to be a volunteer board member when WAA was the only game in town.

These articles will cover the reason for the formation of the Wheatland Township Athletic Association and the incredible growth from 66 T-ball players to approximately 14,000-15,000 participants 20-25 years later. You will learn about the people who really started  WAA and the many community projects WAA has accomplished in its 40 years.

The ride I am going to take you on starts at Bob Diller’s garage in 1977 and ends up at 2323 Liberty St.,  WAA Sports Center. We will take a few side trips along the way and visit several familiar baseball diamonds and soccer fields. Look for the articles starting in February.

If you have a favorite story about WAA, email it to lisa.mcclellan@waasports.org.  I will be more than happy to share your stories, space permitting.

Dr. Lawrence Gentile

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Wheatland Athletic Association

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Aurora, Illinois 60502

Email Us: info@waasports.org
Phone : 630-978-2855
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