Published April 28, 2016
Coach 'Maj' continues to inspire athletes
By Ken Knutson
Hinsdale Central varsity girls softball coach Lee Maciejewski reflected on how the landscape has changed over his four decades coaching high school sports.
“When I first started, the boys had crew cuts. Then they went to long hair. Then they went to crew cuts,” Maciejewski said, pausing a moment.
“And now they’re back to long hair!” he quipped, erupting in laughter.
When it comes to his passion for mentoring young athletes, nothing has changed for ‘Grandpa Lee,’ as he’s affectionately known — though he claims to have mellowed in recent years.
“I don’t think I’m overly tough on the kids,” he said.
During a recent game against tough conference foe York, Maciejewski shouted encouragement to Red Devil fielders from the dugout and batters from his third base coach station.
“Get a zero up there, c’mon!” he exhorted the defense.
“That a girl!” he exclaimed after a timely hit.
Maciejewski referenced a quote from former NFL coach Tony Dungy likening kids to banks: to draw out success you first need to make a thoughtful investment.
“I subscribe to that,” he said. “You want the kids to know that you actually care about more than what happens out on that field.”
A distinctive Wisconsin accent attests to Maciejewski’s Milwaukee roots, though he’s spent his high school coaching career in the western suburbs. He started at Glenbard West, then moved to West Chicago before arriving at Central a decade ago.
Assistant softball coach Brittany Wolski said Maciejewski has clearly accumulated legions of fans along the way.
“We cannot go anywhere without him knowing someone. It is quite humorous,” she said.
Wolski suggested she has profited from witnessing Maciejewski’s devotion to both his craft and his players, along with his collaborative spirit.
“For Lee, coaching is not just a hobby but a way of life,” she said. “His coaching style is unique in his own way. After being with him the past two years, he has offered many pointers on how to be a successful coach. He calls us the ‘dynamic duo’ because although we have very different viewpoints, we always come to an agreement in the end.”
Maciejewski, who coached boys basketball before venturing into softball and still serves as an assistant for Central varsity boys basketball coach Nick Latorre, said he’s learned to take gender-specific approaches.
“I remember my first year of coaching varsity softball in West Chicago, and the girls said, ‘Coach, please coach us just like the boys,’ ” he related. “Fifteen minutes into practice they come up to me and said, ‘Don’t coach us like the boys.’ ”
Latorre said Maciejewski’s seasoned wisdom has been invaluable to him.
“There are not a lot of things that happen during a basketball season that he hasn’t experienced,” he commented. “The kids love him. He’s a great motivator.”
Latorre half-jokingly questioned whether Maciejewski had really softened his style as claimed.
“I don’t know about that. He’s still very fiery — and very demanding in practice. I haven’t noticed a whole lot of mellowing,” he said.
On and off the court, however, his concern for the well-being of the student-athletes is evident.
“He loves working with our kids. I respect the heck out of him,” Latorre said, noting Maciejewski’s two hip surgeries have not diminished his drive. “He is one of the guys who was born to coach. Even outside of basketball, his skill in molding the person and molding discipline is second to none, so he’s been great for our program.”
Before the final pitch of Central softball’s loss to York 11-5, Maciejewski had already taken notes of what went wrong, including lack of aggressiveness and wayward relay throws.
“What I do is I analyze the game as it’s going on, and what we’re not good at we’ll put in our practice plan for tomorrow,” he said.
He had praise for York’s conference-leading squad, and said his team could take away a lesson in mental toughness from the loss.
“You can’t let a misplay in the field affect our at bats,” Maciejewski said.
Before delivering his stern post-game remarks, however, a surprise was waiting in the dugout to help alleviate the loss’ sting.
Former shortstop Annie Bruns had dropped by to visit with her old squad, getting a big hug from ‘Grandpa Lee.’
“She was all-conference her first two years, her freshman and sophomore year, and batted third in the lineup,” he said, rattling off her accomplishments before her family relocated to Memphis after last season.
Maciejewski appreciates the connection alums maintain with the program after high school, college and beyond.
“If you come back in the middle of May, you will see somebody in this dugout who played for us as much as seven years ago. They keep on coming back,” he said. “Once they’re in (the program), they’re in. They buy in and do everything they can to get better.”