JOLIET – As Jen Doede made history by becoming Will County’s first-ever female athletic director at Joliet Central High School earlier this week, the Joliet Township High School District 204 Board of Education made a very inspired selection in what could be viewed as the most significant hiring to advance female athletes, which already ranked among Illinois’ best, following the IHSA’s decision to start girls sports in 1972 with Title IX’s passage.
And in an intriguing story of one of the greatest technical influences in the Chicago area, the school that Doede attended, Victor J. Andrew High School in Tinley Park, was named after a Chicago businessman who brought his growing business to Orland Park in 1947 to start a great technological explosion that resonated for several years.
Shortly before World War II, the Andrew Corporation went from a small manufacturing concern to making microwave antennas for all uses in the Cold War era of the 1950s. So when High School District 230 created its third school, which is located on 171st Street just east of LaGrange Road in Tinley Park, it named it after the local company’s owner.
In a great wave of early hirings, Andrew accomplished something amazing for a new school. It brought in coaches who stayed for around 25 years and rank among the very best in Illinois history. At least 10 of them entered state halls of fame, and that culture has greatly motivated Doede, a 1994 VJA graduate who played volleyball and softball.
Her coaches in volleyball and softball were two pioneers of girls sports, Barb Walaszek and Carrie Cox. In many cases, the school hired some of Illinois’ best, including Frank Ganser, Sue Kramer, Tom Lahey, Joe Mortimer, Char Nutter, Mike O’Neill, Terry TerHaar and Mike Walaszek, and also brought in one of Doede’s greatest influences, the man who has to be seriously considered as Illinois’ all-time greatest athletic director, Rich Piatchek.
Doede got the opportunity to compete and later coached girls and boys volleyball for 11 years against athletes in the South Inter-Conference Association West Division, in Will County, before she was in VJA’s administration until her recent hiring. All of those varied experiences definitely will benefit her greatly as she transitions to her post at JT.
“I feel very fortunate that I got to go to an environment of people who cared so much and really wanted to make a difference and held you to a standard where you had to work hard, and the results would come, but you had to put in the work, and Barb and Carrie really instilled that in us,” Doede said. “A lot of my coaching and leadership style has come from my experience through Andrew. We all went to Grissom Middle School, and the athletes and coaches supported each other, and playing multiple sports was a big part of our successes. [Rich Piatchek] is like family to me. He helped me as a coach and also assisted in my transition to an administrator. He continued to help me as I was pursuing athletic director positions. He is a great resource and friend.
“I’m a division chair for physical education, health and driver’s education, so there’s a lot of similarities when you’re taking about budgets and scheduling, evaluation of coaches and building the morale and facilities ... and I’m constantly with the athletic director on a multiple of things, so a lot of those skills transfer over to that realm.”
With her special memories of competing and coaching in the SICA West, Doede feels as if she knows Central and appreciates its rich history far more than coaches and administrators from most of Chicagoland, and that’s also the case with Will County’s other large-class schools. And the Steelmen have a great tradition of having some of the state’s top coaches.
“We never played Sandburg; it was everybody out here,” Doede said. “I think the diversity in this area is a real plus, and that’s one of the things that I like about Joliet Central and that drew me here, since I like people who are going to work hard, are going to put their nose to the ground and bust their butts, and I feel like they do that here. I think a plus from what I’ve heard is that our coaches are in it for the kids and want to see them succeed, and that’s what I like about that. And it’s kind of an attractiveness that helped to bring me here.
“There’s so much history here, and that’s something that I’m very excited to delve into. I’m excited to learn about it and see how we can integrate the past, present and future together. One of my first things going into this is seeing the relationships. Steve Locke has done such a great job here, and and I want to capitalize on what he’s done and to also learn from people about what they love about Joliet Central and trying to improve on that and help them to do that by working together as a team. I want to build a culture that leads to positivity, character development and sportsmanship, and that starts with the adults.”