Central plays a big part in WSC lineage

Players and coaches earn places of honor as conference marks a century of athletics

John Naisbitt didn't learn that his name was among the coaches and contributors on the 100 Years of the West Suburban Conference Honor Roll until someone told him to look online.

"I was surprised," Naisbitt said of his inclusion. "It's extremely humbling to be counted among the best coaches of all time. I stand on the shoulders of people like (fellow honoree and Central tennis coach predecessor) Jay Kramer."

Ultimately, he stressed, it's about the players.

"It's fantastic talent on my teams that really allows me to be considered for such a great honor," he said. "How blessed I was to come to this school 25 years ago."

The conference was christened in January of 1924 as the West Suburban Pioneer League consisting of Downers Grove, Glenbard, Hinsdale, Maine, West Chicago and York.

Schools would join while others departed during the suburban growth and realignment that unfolded over the ensuing decades. At the end of 1985-86 school year, the Des Plaines Valley League was folded into a two-pronged West Suburban Conference, with Gold and Silver divisions.

Over its first century of athletic competition, WSC teams have won 259 IHSA state championships, more than any other conference in Illinois. The all-time honor rolls recognize more than 100 student-athletes and more than 100 coaches and represent "individuals from every era, school and sport ...to acknowledge the conference's rich history," according to the WSC's commemorative website http://www.wsc-100.com (see sidebar for full roster of Central honorees).

Naisbitt earned his spot thanks to winning eight team state championships and three runner-up finishes over the past 13 seasons. He credited Kramer for equipping him as an assistant coach with the tools for success.

"Jay Kramer was here in his 41st year coaching, and I was able to work with him for nine years," Naisbitt related.

Most important was understanding the lofty standard.

"I was taught that the slogan is 'title or bust,' and that's a hard lesson and not an easy one to embrace," he said.

Central boys and girls swimming head coach Bob Barber, another honoree, also navigates high expectations. Barber helped add to the boys' storied state legacy with championships in 2015 and 2023 and guided the highly decorated girls program to second-place finishes in 2008 and 2022.

Barber said his rival and buddy, Lyons Township head boys swimming coach Scott Walker, made him aware of the accolade.

"I never would have guessed that this kind of honor would have been in my life," he said. "As I look at that list, I feel very lucky to be considered to be in that class."

Like Naisbitt, Barber redirected much of the praise to his swimmers.

"The kids do the work," he said.

The WSC 100 website features oral histories, school fight songs and even a history of the Old Oaken Bucket football rivalry game that Hinsdale Central and Downers Grove North have been playing since 1935.

Naisbitt said being in the highly competitive conference has helped push Central student-athletes in all sports to reach their highest potential.

"I think that this is a high school where expectations are high for athletes," he said. "Tennis is positioned to be making title runs annually, but a number of other teams are as well."

He delights in the fact that Red Devil alums Martin Joyce - included on the WSC athlete honor roll - and Ian Tesmond are still involved as part-time coaches. Both have multiple individual and team state titles to their name.

"That's one of the advantages of being a longtime coach is having former players assist you in different ways," he said.

Naisbitt lamented the absence of his other past standouts from the list - which conceivably could have been much longer.

But he's glad the school is well represented.

"The most rewarding thing is when other schools talk about us, they talk about our sportsmanship and our ability to win with grace," Naisbitt said.

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean