Many happy returns
One need not look far for former athletes returning to teach, coach at KHS
KANELAND—It’s one thing to compete for your school—to put in hours of blood, sweat and tears for a shot a glory.
But there are some whose story doesn’t end when they walk through the graduation line. Many of the coaches that patrol the sidelines at Kaneland High School used to be Knights themselves.
The roster of alumni spans a large set of years, going from wrestling head coach Monty Jahns from the Class of 1981, to assistant football and basketball coach Brian Claesson from the Class of 2008.
That space of time has seen considerable growth in the area and much success from the programs that have spawned the future educators.
Participant in girls track, basketball and volleyball, Class of 2003 member Breanne Kahl helps students with biology and AP biology challenges during the day before mentoring freshman volleyball players, something she’s done for the past seven seasons.
“Coaching is something I’ve really wanted to do, I love the game and still play whenever possible,” Kahl said. “What I do now is a great way to connect with the kids and form relationships throughout high school.”
Kahl, a graduate of Aurora University and Masters degree recipient from Nova Southeastern University in Florida, isn’t that far removed from walking the halls as a student, but has seen almost two full classes cycle out of KHS.
It allows for reflection.
“You get to see the transition and it’s really a lot of fun going all the way from freshman year to graduation. Then they go off to college and do great things,” Kahl said.
Someone like Andy Drendel, of the Class of 2005, is no stranger to the Kaneland athletic story, with his father Ralph a storied track coach and current interim athletics director.
“My dad is my hero, and I can go to him for anything and he’ll tell it like it is,” Drendel said.
Drendel already brought a wealth of coaching experience to the current cross-country and track landscape he occupies as an assistant. The McDole Elementary teacher helped coach boys track and girls track at Macomb High School after completing his degree at Western Illinois University.
“I knew all about the great coaches at Kaneland like Bob Pederson and Joe Thorgesen, and grew up with their kids. I knew that I wanted to be a coach since elementary school. In basketball back in high school when a drill was being run, I remember thinking ‘I want to do this,’” Drendel said.
An athlete like twin sister Kelsey, now the head volleyball coach down at Normal West, Drendel’s memory of school time stretches far, something he often brings to his students and athletes.
“It’s easy to be able to relate to them that 20 years ago, I was sitting where they were now,” Drendel said.
Science teacher Mike Thorgesen, a graduate of Kaneland and Illinois State University, was in a spot with his younger brother Boone, a current Plano faculty member, where Kaneland athletics were never far away.
“Growing up a coach’s kid, you were always around the sports. It took me awhile to understand it, but you saw the older kids playing all the time and that’s who I wanted to be,” Thorgesen said.
In his third year of helping lower-level football and varsity wrestling after two years at McHenry High School, Thorgesen wouldn’t have been deterred if the output he saw from father Joe after multiple decades was less than the two State titles.
“Even when we were young, it didn’t matter how good or bad they were, it felt like home. Then, I kind of knew what I wanted to do,” Thorgesen said.
The most recent addition to the group of KHS athletes returning is Claesson, who attended Aurora University and saw action on the diamond as a Spartan, this after playing for both Joe Thorgesen and Tom Fedderly on the football field as well as current baseball coach Brian Aversa.
“I wanted to try and get into coaching and teaching and do P.E. or special ed,” Claesson said. “I wanted to stay close to home and I had a great time at Kaneland, luckily they had an opening.”
In his second year, Claesson has paid his dues assisting the freshman and sophomore football rosters, along with the sophomore baseball team.
A move to varsity baseball could be in the cards in 2014.
“Aversa has pulled that program up since he’s been here, I think my first year, there were nine kids on varsity. He’s won a State championship, and he’s great to coach with. The coaches I work with are great to learn from.” the former Knight catcher said.
Former Knights that return have seen enough experience that that can even serve well in a bind.
“When you switch coaches, and during any transition, it’s very helpful to have coaches that know the routing and who can be looked at for things like even taking attendance on the bus,” Kahl said.
KHS personnel who have made their way back always have an outlet to turn toward for help or advice, as well.
“I’ll bring up something to my dad and mentioned something he did in 1993, but he’ll let me know that that situation was back in 1993 and was different,” Drendel said. “I have (Chad) Clarey in the fall to work under and (Eric) Baron in the spring if I have any questions. They are great coaches as well as great mentors.”
The work put in by the athletes is quite familiar to the coaches that have returned.
“I feel I work best on the freshman level,” Kahl said. “My record has been decent, and the girls that come in are very talented. A lot of times, girls will come in as great athletes but need work on the volleyball skill. You get to see how they do all four years.”
“You see the coaches in your youth and they seem like seasoned veterans to you, but there’s growing pains. You still have to try your own style to get your message across,” Thorgesen said.
Aspects of the experience can still surprise.
“I always loved football, and I’ve really taken to coaching wrestling. They’re two different sports completely, but I’ve really gotten into it,” Thorgesen said.
“The dedication of the players is amazing,” Claesson said. “You have a lot of three-sport athletes at Kaneland and there’s a lot of success. I saw that as a student, especially with football.”
Kahl loves the coaching aspect, and the Lady Knight experience, with all challenges therein.
“I sit through two games that need full attention. Sometimes it’s tough to keep your energy up, but Kelsey Flanagan (Class of 2006) helped this year a lot, and was able to take over a bit in between the games so I was able to gather myself, get energy back and move on to the next match,” Kahl said.
In his still young coaching career, Claesson looks to instill what he was witness to as a diamond backstop and Knight pass-catcher.
“The coaches were always approachable. I could talk with any of them. Kaneland coaches have great relationships with their team,” Claesson said.
For Kaneland High School athletics, it’s been fortunate to see the return of capable athletes from its annals of history mentor current athletes today. It stands to wonder which Knight or Lady Knight currently brandishing the KHS jersey could make their way back in 2024?
Editors note: We contacted numerous coaches at Kaneland that were once KHS athletes, but did not hear back from many prior to publication.