Editor's note: Chris Fetterman is the boys' water polo
coach at Hoffman Estates High School and a journalism major at Roosevelt
University. He will be contributing articles and assisting in the running
of Illpolo.com for the 2009 season.
ENTRY #6 - "From One Win To State Qualifier"
by Chris Fetterman
recent interview, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Schaumburg boys'
head coach Tom Gallagher to try and gain a little perspective from one of
my closest rivals. The Schaumburg boys' team has gone from winning one
game in their first season four years ago to winning a sectional title and
advancing to the state tournament in 2008. As a fellow coach, I would love
to give all the credit to Tom, but there is something to be said about a
group of guys willing to put the time and effort in to become one of the
top teams in the state. After all, us coaches are really nothing without
I have been around
this sport for 14 years and have seen coaches that have the charisma to
change the flow of a game...make a great adjustment at halftime...make a
key substitution...but Tom really sticks out for his passion to make the
game what it should be. He excels at teaching his players solid
fundamentals and showing them what it means to win with respect. His
roster shows what you can achieve given the right leadership and the
desire to become the best.
Johnson, Pat Kraulis, Mike Kehoe, Ed Walsh, Chris Corbett and goalie Neal
Salemi have all wanted to become the best and have put in countless hours
in the weight room and the pool. They have started off the season 13-1,
with their only loss coming in their tournament's final game against St
Louis University High School from Missouri. Alas, the interview...
Tom, you have been around forever, tell us a little about where you
began, and how long you've been around.
I was on the first water polo team at St. Viator High School, then at NIU
for four years. I was there in the preseason with the team, which
consisted of Chicago guys from Brother Rice, St. Patrick, Mt. Carmel and
Fenwick. We played about 15 games per year, including games against
Loyola, Northwestern, and Northeastern. I went on to coach at St. Viator
for one year and we made the ISA Final 8 in the ’76-77 school year. After
that, I took a job at Schaumburg High School, where I started a boys &
girls program in the fall of ’77. We played a full schedule of 25 games.
In our second season, we finished second to St. Charles in the State
The next year we
made the ISA Final 8 with John Ulibarri and Mike Llerandi leading the way.
That same year, the girls won the first “girls state tourney” by beating
Morgan Park in the finals. Now, I am in my fourth season here with the
boys' team, so the short answer is about 18-19 years.
Sounds like you have had quite the experience as a coach, how about
as a player? Any funny memories?
Well, as a shallow-end goalie, jumping on a fake by a wide open player
(Mark Killion, Northwestern) to the upper right corner, having him shoot
low and hitting me right where you hope they never do. I thought I would
pass out, but getting up from under the water and making the save…in front
of 30 laughing co-eds…not funny.
It's a little funny, Tom. Your team looks to be highly competitive. How
can you keep them focused
after winning sectionals last year? To make a run at another title?
As I am sure you remember, the last two defending Sectional Champions were
defeated in the sectional finals
by underdogs… with that knowledge, we used that to motivate the team to
not be “outworked” in the offseason…That, along with the fact that three
starters, (all returning) did not get to play because of team rule
violations should inspire them to want to be better then ever. This team
truly loves this game and it hasn’t taken much to inspire them.
I'm sure that has lingered with those guys. I'm going to ask a toughie,
how does it feel to be the most hated team around the Northwest suburbs?
I am sure hated is a friendly term! But, we will use that question to
motivate them since we never really felt hated...since our team's first
year, we have always talked about playing each and every game as if we
were facing Fenwick. To play with respect for the game and honor your
opponent…we will respect every team we play this year and we hope to earn
the respect of the teams we play through hard, quick, physical (but, clean
and legal) water polo.
All of the
projected starters played at the varsity level in our 1-16 season three
years ago. We were humiliated
on several occasions. Scores were run up, cheap over-physical play was
common, teams laughed at our mistakes and made comments during the
their games against us to pad their statistics, leaving in All-Conference
players the entire game when they had double-digit goal leads. We vowed
never to become that and to model our program after the best...Fenwick. We
upped the level of our schedule this year, but intentionally scheduled
first year program Maine South (with all due respect) so the team could
remember how far they have come in three seasons and to be able to treat a
first year team with respect and dignity.
Do you have a favorite player that you remember? Maybe the best you
have had the chance to coach?
Boys: John Ulibarri, SHS ’81. ISA 2nd team All-State (was a three-time D-1
All-American Swimmer at Arkansas (:54.2 in breaststroke), 5’7", 39 inch
vertical jump…always put defense first… and had the heart of a lion… Kept
an All-American at Br. Rice to one goal in a playoff game that we lost
Juris, SHS ’81. 6’3, 185lbs, 170 lbs bench press; She averaged 9.6 goals,
3 steals, 2.0 blocks and 3.0 assists per game and was gifited...had the
throwing arm of an MLB pitcher! Cheryl scored in the boys Varsity games
regularly….In college she was the starting center on the North Central
College Division III National Championship Basketball team. Once, in a
boys' game, a male varsity player intentionally hit her across the head
and told her to “go play with girls you (expletive)….” Let’s just say, she
honest-to-god made him cry and leave the game; her reply to him as he was
crying… “maybe you should play with the girls in my place….” She was as
tough as they came, and to this day, still is.
I definitely recall those two names. I just have one more question for
you. Since you have been around for so long, what do you see that has
changed that maybe you don't like about water polo?
First and foremost, that when we have two officials, the back official
watches and eliminates the off-the-ball garbage that takes place and
prevents teams from executing the basics of the game.
This is high
school, not international…I am sick of hearing “well, in international
play...” that is like telling a high school basketball coach, “well, in
That the people at
the top realize that the reason they are good is because there are teams
that are not good…does that make sense? I am not talking about Fenwick…if
Illinois is going to rise to a new level in water polo, those in charge
and at the upper level need to respect the opinion of newcomers (or at
least act as though they do). It is up to them to help younger teams and
players learn how to play the game correctly… and as you know… I wish the
garbage play… more specifically DIRTY PLAY and DIRTY PLAYERS be eliminated
and not be rewarded with post- season honors.