Students with families challenge retiring athletic director Fullriede understands
June 25, 2015
Blocking future NFL players Vern Den Herder and the late Wilbur Young was the least of offensive tackle Rich Fullriede’s worries at Luther College during the 1970 season.
The personable Fullriede, who retires as Morton College’s athletic director on July 1st, juggled trying to be a good husband, a good father, a good student and a good football player and making ends meet. He and his wife of 46 years, Marge, were married at 19 and had their first child a year later. They spent their first Thanksgiving apart because Luther was selected to play in a bowl game in Columbus, Ohio.
Fullriede and his teammates learned about their selection to the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl, the reward for winning the Iowa Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, while watching a program in its rookie season that now is a staple of autumn Monday evenings - Monday Night Football. Luther lost to Capital of Ohio 34-21, but Fullriede remembered the game as a great experience.
Living conditions for the newlyweds were spartan. Finding ways to pay the bills proved even more challenging. Fullriede cleaned floors at the school on the side, while his wife worked in a dress store for a $1 an hour and typed papers for other students.
“When I see our students with a family, I can relate to them,” Fullriede said. “It was very hard being a father, a husband, college student and a football player. The hard part for me was wanting social interaction with my buddies. Sometimes, it was hard to balance.”
Fullriede grew up in a three-flat on 23rd and Oakley in Chicago. While playing football at the now-closed Harrison High School, Fullriede engaged in a letter-writing campaign to college coaches to find a school.
Luther football coach Edsel Schweizer was interested. He drove in from Decorah, Iowa, to Fullriede’s home.
“He pulled up in a big, old Cadillac and all the neighbors stuck their heads out the windows,” Fullriede recalled. “I thought it was the neatest thing in the world. I took a trip out there. Coming from the city, I thought it was one of the most beautiful places I had ever seen.”
Luther’s student body was a diverse population. One of his classmates include a prince who was the heir apparent to the throne in Nepal. Cheryl Browne, the first African American contestant in the Miss America pageant, was a year behind Fullriede. Browne, who was Miss Iowa, ended up losing to Phyllis George.
Fullriede learned a great lesson in dealing with people from Schweizer’s handling of star running back Bernie Peeters, whose hair length extended beyond his helmet.
“If you’re a good person and a good citizen, long hair doesn’t define you,” Fullriede recalled. “I took that with me, learning to be tolerant and not judging someone by their appearance.”
Luther’s football fortunes skyrocketed in Fullriede’s last two seasons. The Norse were 7-2 and 8-1 as Fullriede and his fellow offensive linemen opened holes for Peeters, who finished with Luther records of 36 100-yard games and 47 career touchdowns.
“My college years were the most fun of my life,” Fullriede said. “I had a ball. Getting married was great, too. It helped settle me down. And, I became the person I am today because of the love we shared as a family.”
As for Den Herder and Young, they weren’t fun to play against but became a source of a few laughs in later years.
Den Herder was a 6-6 defensive end from Central College. A standout on the Miami Dolphins’ Super Bowl championship teams in 1972 and ’73, Den Herder was so dominant that he received the Iowa Conference’s MVP award, a rarity for a defensive player. Young, a 6-7, 300-pounder who played for the Kansas City Chiefs, San Diego Chargers, Washington Redskins and the USFL’s Arizona Wranglers, starred at William Penn.
“Boy, could Den Herder lay some lumber on you,” recalls Fullriede with a laugh. “Wilbur Young was huge. He was the biggest man I had even seen. He was something like 6-9, 6-10 and 300 pounds.”
Fullriede graduated with a bachelor’s degree in education from Luther and found a job teaching in the Chicago Public School system. Later on, Fullriede officiated high school wrestling (doing three state tournaments and the Midlands) and coached freshman football at Morton High School.
Six years into retirement, Fullriede got a call from Morton College asking him to become athletic director. Fullriede’s past experiences as athletic director at Morton High School from 1994 to 2005 translated well into the Morton College position.
As a high school athletic director, Fullriede had experience with hiring coaches, scheduling, budgeting, ordering equipment, facility usage, game management, working with student-athletes and serving on conference committees.
Going from a setting with 26 sports and multiple levels in a place that has the largest enrollment of any high school in Illinois to one with nine sports with one level apiece at the state’s smallest community college district sounded simple. However, Fullriede quickly discovered a new set of challenges.
One was dealing with the myriad of NJCAA rules regarding student-athlete eligibility. Another was handling a coaching staff where the majority are part-time employees opposed to a high school setting where most of the coaches were full-time teachers.
Fullriede enlisted the help of Morton College’s MIS Department to create a program that monitors athletic eligibility.
“MIS helped us build a program so we can go in at any time and check an athlete’s record with the push of a button,” Fullriede said. “We’re better able to monitor our athletes.”
Fullriede also takes pride in assembling a quality group of head and assistant coaches across the board. A new scoreboard, donated by Koppers, came during Fullriede’s tenure as well as renovations to locker rooms for men’s and women’s athletics. The athletic department doesn’t have to rely on outside transportation as much with two 15-passenger busses.
Fullriede also served as chair for golf and soccer in the Illinois Skyway Collegiate Conference.
In retirement, Fullriede plans to spend time traveling, visiting his children and grandchildren and volunteering at his church.
“I really enjoyed my time here at Morton College,” Fullriede said. “Everyone at the college was very supportive of athletics and I really appreciated it. I met a lot of wonderful and supportive people who were very cooperative.
“This gave me a chance to do some different things. I had never been involved with college administration before, so that was an interesting challenge. I thoroughly enjoyed it.”
Basketball table crew added to Skyway Conference Hall of Fame
June 18, 2015
You might not know their names, but their faces are staples at Morton College home basketball games for many seasons.
Now, let’s put the names with the faces to introduce the table crew for Morton College home basketball games.
Meet Art Belanger, public address announcer; Jim Lazansky, official timer; and Ray Konrath, official scorer, the newest members of the Illinois Skyway Collegiate Conference Hall of Fame. They were added during a June 11th ceremony at Waubonsee Community College in Sugar Grove.
They work together smoothly as a team with the game referees and coaches and players from both sides to present a professional atmosphere on Morton College’s behalf.
Belanger is the “new kid on the block,” becoming the voice of the Panthers in 2008. He reconnected with Morton College in 2007 by putting together a 50-year reunion of the 1957 championship basketball team.
Lazansky, also a Morton College graduate, is the crew veteran, doing games as official timer since 1994. Konrath, a former women’s basketball coach at Morton College, has kept the official scorebook for the past 13 seasons.
Belanger had a long and distinguished career in community journalism and public relations with not-for-profit organizations. He and the late Bob “Slivers” Slivovsky were close friends at Morton College and Belanger always pays tribute to his fellow Skyway Hall of Famer by ending every home game, saying, “Good night, Slivers.” It’s Art’s way of repaying Slivers for the many good times they had together.
Lazansky, a trustee in the village of Stickney, is proud of his Morton College ties. He always wears one of his collection of various Panther baseball caps to games.
Konrath, a former high school athletic director and coach, is now a member of five Hall of Fames, including the Chicago Catholic League, St. Laurence High School, St. Rita High School and Queen of Peace High School. He enjoys being associated with the officials, the coaches and staff and says, “The important thing is to have accountability and responsibility. With our crew, we’ve got that.”
Former Coordinator of Athletics Fejt tabbed for Illinois Skyway Hall of Fame
June 18, 2015
George Fejt has worn many different hats during a 30-year association with Morton College. He’s been the Enrollment Specialist, Coordinator of Student Activities, Coordinator of Athletics and now Academic Advisor.
Fejt, added to the Illinois Skyway Collegiate Conference Hall of Fame June 11th in ceremonies held at Waubonsee Community College, spent 20 years as Coordinator of Athletics. During that time, Morton College produced over 25 NJCAA Academic All-Americans and 125 Skyway Conference All-Academic Athletes. The 2008 women’s volleyball program received a NJCAA All-Academic Team of the Year honor.
Panther teams produced conference championships in men’s and women’s cross country; men’s and women’s basketball; men’s soccer; baseball; and women’s softball. Thanks to Fejt, men’s and women’s soccer are intercollegiate sports to Morton College.
He served the Skyway and Region IV in a variety of functions, including 20 years as the conference’s Men’s Basketball Chair and 5 years as the conference’s Men’s Golf Chair. He also was the Region IV Softball Chair for a decade.
Fejt chaired the committee when the Skyway Conference created a new logo. He also chaired the committee that developed the Skyway’s current outdoor sports weather policy. It provides guidelines on dealing with lightning and temperature conditions, assuring the safety of the Skyway’s student-athletes.
Fejt also created a form of recognition for Skyway athletes named Second Team All-Conference. They now receive certificates.
Fejt played baseball and basketball at Morton College. He was a member of Morton College’s first Skyway basketball champion team in 1981.
After Morton College, Fejt went on to receive a bachelor’s degree in Education and Psychology from Elmhurst College and an administrative certificate in Sports Management from Loyola University Chicago.
Fejt also is an active member of the Lions Club in his hometown of Westchester and a booster of the baseball team at St. Joseph High School. In addition, Fejt is a Morton College Foundation Director and Morton College Athletic Association member.
Baseball team captures first sectional title since 1989
May 11, 2015
Morton College’s motto for the weekend was “Why not us?” and it sparked the Panthers to their first sectional baseball championship since 1989 at Elgin Community College.
The Panthers certainly are the party crashers at this weekend’s North Central District Tournament at the Schaumburg Boomers’ Stadium. Morton College is the only team in the final four with a sub-.500 record at 16-36. They open against top-seeded Madison Area Tech (39-14) at noon Friday, May 15th. Oakton (39-14) and Black Hawk (34-22) complete the field.
The 11th-seeded Panthers had their back against the walls after falling to Carl Sandburg 4-3 May 9, but reeled off three straight wins over two days. Morton College first eliminated Elgin 4-2 behind a complete-game performance by Adam Martinson. Elgin (41-13) came in ranked eighth in NJCAA Division II and had pummeled the Panthers 20-2 and 12-2 during the Illinois Skyway Collegiate Conference season.
Morton College then needed to beat Carl Sandburg twice the next day and the Panthers did so by 5-4 and 6-5 counts. The relief team of Roberto Prado and Torrence Sumerlin notched the win and the save, respectively, in both games. Jadiel Valle’s two-run double was the big hit in the second-game win May 10th.
“A big factor was our confidence and energy,” Morton College baseball coach Nestor Carrillo said. “We came in as the underdogs, but we told our guys, ‘It’s not how you start, but how you finish.’ It was the best ball we played all year. We told the guys that you had to earn it. They certainly did by making every play.”
In addition to the Panthers’ starting pitching that produced two complete games, Carrillo also pointed to Morton College’s keystone combination of shortstop Moises Diaz and second baseman Angel Munoz for the team’s success.
“That was the best middle infield play we had all season,” Carrillo said. “Without them, we wouldn’t have won the sectional.”
Angel Zorilla went the distance in Morton College’s 4-3 loss to Sandburg, then Martinson followed with a 97-pitch masterpiece over nine innings to stop Elgin. David Matthews’ two-run double was the big hit against the Spartans, who entered the game with a team batting average of .334.
“Elgin is an excellent fastball hitting team,” Carrillo said, “and Adam kept them off-balance. He had control of all three of his pitches and he was pounding the zone.”
“I was pitching efficiently, kept my pitch count down and felt good right to the end,” Martinson told the Elgin Courier News’ Gene Chamberlin. “I threw a lot of sliders and kept them off-balance and came with the fastball only when I needed to.
“This feels great. We played hard the whole year and didn’t get a lot of wins.”
Basketball All-American signs with Texas Pan American
April 15, 2015
Nick Dixon is excited about his newest opportunity, but also took time out to remember and thank those at Morton College who helped him along the way.
Dixon called his decision to come to Morton College as a “life-changing moment” and that’s no exaggeration. In two years, he went from an unknown prospect to two-time NJCAA Division II All-American at Morton College to signing a letter of intent April 15th with NCAA Division I men’s basketball at the University of Texas Pan American, located 10 miles north of the U.S./Mexican border.
“Coming to Morton College was a life-changing decision,” Dixon said. “If not for Morton College, I never would have fulfilled my goal of being a Division I player. I was working for two years after high school and not playing basketball. Morton gave me a place to showcase my talent.”
While Dixon leaves Morton College as the program’s second all-time leading scorer with 1,622 points, his best memories will be those of teammates and coaches.
“I had wonderful teammates and coach (Conte) Stamas is the best coach I’ve ever had,” said Dixon, who averaged an NJCAA D-2 leading 27.2 points per game as a sophomore and 25.2 ppg as a freshman. “He really helped me showcase my skills. I’ve never forget Morton and I’ll always come back.”
Stamas, who has over 30 years of experience of coaching at the high school and college levels, was genuinely touched by Dixon’s appreciation.
“He was so thankful to me,” Stamas said. “Here’s someone was out of high school for two years and now has a Division I basketball scholarship. He told me, ‘Coach, you really changed my life.’ It makes all that you go through really worth it.”
Texas Pan American, which is changing its name to The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley in the Fall of 2015, finished 10-21 overall and 4-10 in the Western Athletic Conference last season. Dixon will make at least one trip back to the area as Chicago State is a WAC school.
“It’s an up-and-coming program,” said Dixon, the Illinois Skyway Collegiate Conference’s back-to-back MVP. “I felt their coaches had good trust and confidence in me.”
Stamas, a former Division I assistant at Stetson and Xavier, believes veteran Texas Pan American coach Dan Hipsher will help Dixon develop.
“I like their coaching staff,” Stamas said. “What they’re good at doing is helping Nick Dixon to learn how to play off the ball. He had the ball in his hands quite a bit for us. They’re in need of some outside perimeter scoring and that’s what attracted them to Nick.”
Dixon is expected to graduate from Morton College in May with an Associate in Arts degree. He will head down to Texas Pan American to take summer classes and work out with the basketball team. Dixon knows he needs to hit the weight room to make an impact at the Division I level. He plans on majoring in communications and would like to become a sports broadcaster.