The sweet spot
Photo: Randall (right) directs the Waubonsee Chiefs’ defense during WCC’s 8-3 win over Nassau (New York) during the NJCAA Division III World Series tournament. Courtesy Photo
KHS grad finds decades of satisfaction just down the road at WCC
SUGAR GROVE—College coaches leaving one program for another is nothing unusual, particularly in major college football and basketball.
Meet a coach in the college ranks who’s bucked that trend and stayed put. For 36 years.
Dave Randall, the athletic manager and veteran baseball coach at Waubonsee Community College, had opportunities years ago to move on, but at the end of the day, he chose not to. His decision to stay at Waubonsee has been affirmed more than once by colleagues in the coaching profession he knows, who have taken what they believed to be a better gig, only to discover the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.
“It’s not always about the title,” Randall, a Kaneland product, said recently in his office at Waubonsee. “I’ve always said you have to be happy and enjoy what you’re doing. I have no desire to move up to a four-year school. I’m happy here. I love it where I’m at and I’ll stay here.”
In addition to enjoying his roles at Waubonsee, Randall said his commitment to family and his desire to develop the baseball and sports programs at the school—as athletic manager, he oversees 14 men’s and women’s sports—keeps him going.
His daughters, Jessica and Rebecca, both played softball for the Chiefs. Rebecca will be a senior at Aurora University this fall, and is coming off a junior year in which she hit .422 while helping the Spartans go 39-8 and reach the NCAA Division III regional tournament.
“Eighty percent of our (baseball) recruiting is in the immediate area,” Randall said. “You can be home in the evening. You can be with your family.
“I wanted to be around my family and wanted to see my kids play ball. I’ve always been the type of person who likes to take something and develop it to the end. I just really enjoy seeing it develop over the years and seeing it through.”
Randall certainly has gone above and beyond seeing the baseball program through at Waubonsee. When Randall took over as coach in 1978, Jimmy Carter was president, the Bee Gees’ “Saturday Night Fever” album went No. 1 for 24 weeks, gasoline was around 62 cents per gallon, and a Polish cardinal named Karol Jozef Wojtyla became Pope John Paul II.
Approximately 856 wins later, Randall is one of only two NJCAA Division III coaches to compile more than 800 career victories. Randall doesn’t keep track of such numbers; in fact, his pitching coach, Steve Moga, who also serves as the school’s sports information coordinator, had to tell him he was nearing his 700th career win.
“It’s nice and it’s kind of neat,” Randall said of the victory totals, “but basically it tells me I’ve been here a long time.”
Yet, Randall emphasized that he doesn’t measure the success of his career by his won-loss record.
“It’s not just all about the wins. It’s about the players,” he said. “I never have evaluated the success of any team based on our record, accomplishments or awards. If they say it was well worth spending their time here, then I’ve done my job.”
The players on Randall’s 2013 squad reached the pinnacle of success at the NJCAA Division III level this past spring. After enduring 38 losses—a dubious Waubonsee record for most defeats in a single season—during the 2012 season, the Chiefs did a 180, winning a school-record 38 games and advancing to the NJCAA World Series in Tyler, Texas, for the second time in four years.
The Chiefs ended up finishing third in the nation. Randall attributes the team’s dramatic turnaround to:
• His sophomores working on, and perfecting, specific aspects of their game
• His position players staying injury free
• A deep pitching staff, which compensated for the loss of two starters to injury
• Bringing in a solid group of freshmen
“We were deep enough (pitching) that the other kids picked it up,” Randall said. “You can’t feel sorry for yourself (with injuries). It’s an opportunity for somebody else, and some kids took the opportunity and ran with it.”
Freshman Jordan Jones, a Kaneland graduate, stepped in and became a top middle reliever for the Chiefs, leading the club with 19 appearances. He pitched 32 innings and posted a 2-1 record. Tyler Heinle, who also prepped at Kaneland, saw action in 18 games and hit .327 in a reserve role as an infielder.
Both Jones and Heinle were part of the Knights’ 2011 Class 3A state championship team.
Jones recalls how Randall brought in former Chicago Cubs pitcher Aaron Heilman to talk to the incoming freshmen—a talk that he said really calmed everyone’s nerves.
“All of us as freshmen came in pretty nervous, and coach Randall took care of it pretty good,” Jones said. “He (Heilman) came in and talked about being freshmen and how to deal with being nervous before games. He’s (Randall) like a living legend in junior college baseball. He always makes coming to the field fun, and knows what he’s talking about.”
Jones said the team worked through some rough spots during the conference season, but hit its stride in the playoffs.
“In the playoffs we started beating up on teams,” Jones said. “That’s when it hit us. ‘We’ve got a shot to make it to Texas. Let’s do it.’”
One of the memories etched in Randall’s mind in regard to participating in the World Series this time around didn’t have anything to do with the team’s on-field performance. It’s how his players conducted themselves off the field.
Each team in the NJCAA World Series adopts a Little League team from the Tyler, Texas, area during the series. The way in which the Chiefs embraced their adopted Little League team drew a letter of praise from one of the residents.
“We got a nice letter from (a) gentleman in Tyler,” Randall said. “He wrote a nice letter about our team. I’m as proud of what he said in that letter as I am about us placing third at the World Series.”
Randall is proud of his Kaneland roots, as well.
“I’ve always been proud of being a Kaneland grad,” he said. “I live in Yorkville, but grew up in Sugar Grove. I’m more country; I feel much more comfortable being out here in the Sugar Grove and Elburn area.”
After 36 years of coaching, has retirement tried knocking on Randall’s door?
“That day will come, and people have asked me that,” he said. “I’m not putting a time on it. I’m going to coach as long as I’m having fun and it’s rewarding for the players. The day it stops being fun, I’ll retire that day. But I’m enjoying it.”