Bill Booker grew up in Mendota, Illinois, a city with a population of just over 7,000 people and located about 100 miles southwest of Chicago. Mr. Booker obtained his Bachelors Degree from Western Illinois University in Macomb and his Masters Degree from Illinois State University in Bloomington/Normal. Like many who grow up in the area, he probably never expected to be the subject of a National website that focuses on the positive in sports. That was before he was able to have such a profound impact on students.
An educator at LaSalle-Peru Township High School (LP) in LaSalle, Illinois, Mr. Booker is proud of a career that has spanned 24 years and continues today. Some refer to him as coach, but most refer to him as Mr. Booker; that’s how I knew him then and how I still know him now. He was my health and physical education teacher for many semesters when I was in high school. Although we both had hair back in the 90’s, something he commented on when he walked into Starbucks for our interview (it was a good laugh for us both), I soon realized that the Mr. Booker I remembered then was very much the same today.
It’s important to note we had not seen each other since 1997. Mr. Booker is best known as a coach and I never played sports, but I was a student of his and he remembered me 14 years later. Educators see so many people in a span of one year, let alone 24 years, so this meeting was very special.
Coach Booker has been the manager of the LP High School baseball team for 19 years (he started out as an assistant five years before.) During his time as manager, he has compiled 341 wins, three conference titles, three regional titles, three sectional titles, one super sectional title and 4th place in the Illinois High School Association (IHSA) Class 3A. He has also had the opportunity to work at the University of Illinois Baseball Camps, speak at Illinois Valley Community College (IVCC) Baseball Clinics, coach the Illinois Baseball Coaches Association All-Star game and coach a division team from the Illinois Crossroads Series. Additionally, his staff hosts an annual Spring-Training Clinic for local boys aged 7-14, which has over 150 kids that attend the camp. He also has a summer league compiled of high school players, which play 20-30 games in June and July. Did I tell you he also has been an assistant football coach for over 10 years? To say the least, the man is busy!
During his tenure, he has coached the likes of Brett Zawacki, who played for the Triple A affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals and is currently in the Florida Marlins organization, as well as Brock Keffer, who was drafted by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in 2001. While Mr. Booker is proud of the accolades, he will rarely say anything about them. Right now he focuses on his job at LP educating and coaching young people. According to Mr. Booker, he has no awards on display in his house, as he believes there will be time for reflection when he retires.
Back in 1997, he had a wife and young son. Today, he is still married and now has four teenagers. Four teenagers, yes, you read that correctly. I came out of the interview wondering if he was a coach or a saint, but he certainly has a family second-to-none.
Mr. Booker is married to his high school sweet-heart, Manuela. They attended different colleges, but that didn’t seem to matter to either of them. They made it through very tough times for adolescents and teenagers, came out ahead and are still very much in love. It’s a refreshing story and one that is out of the ordinary. Today they are the proud parents of Cody (18), Haley (17), Kiley (14), and Brady (13). To say his family has a made a difference in his life is an understatement. Mr. Booker was quick to say it mellowed him and made him think differently. He knew instantly there was more to life than work and coaching. According to Booker, “coaches are better when they have their own children.” He spent 10 years out of football because he wanted to spend more time with his family, which made me question if he had ever thought about getting out of coaching entirely. His response was, “no, always make time for family and always make that time special.” He has found a way to separate life from work, which is pretty impressive considering his whole year can involve coaching. With all of his success, he has had opportunities to move on, but has no desire. He is happy with his life and wishes to continue making his family happy. Someone as successful as Mr. Booker could surely make more money, but he realizes money can’t buy happiness, especially when there is a family involved that means more than words can say.
During the time I spent with Mr. Booker there was one story that stuck out in my mind. The story did not involve teaching and it did not involve coaching; it involved his family. One afternoon he was helping his team prepare for a game and was hitting balls to them as they warmed up. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed his daughters walking up to the stands crying. Baseball took a backseat, as he was worried and wondered what was wrong. He stopped what he was doing and walked over to the girls and asked what was wrong. They replied, “our bunnies died today.” He was quick to comfort them. At that time, he was a dad, not a coach. Although I did not see it, one person did, a local radio personality, Lanny Slevin, who broadcasts all the LP games on radio. He walked up to Coach Booker and asked “is everything okay?” Coach Booker replied, “their bunnies died today.” Fortunately, Mr. Slevin was quick to pull out of his pocket gift certificates to McDonald’s and presented them to Coach for his children.
Coach Booker currently coaches his son, Cody. I was curious to know what that was like. To paraphrase what he said, “it is fun and challenging at the same time.” Understand that this is the same child who, at 9 years old, after a critical loss, said “you can’t play the game for them dad!”
You can go on and on about Mr. Booker’s tenure as an educator and coach, but one would be hard-pressed to find someone as dedicated as this man. He is dedicated in the classroom during health class, in the gym during physical education, on the diamond as the manager of the baseball team and on the football field as an assistant coach. The man cares about his job, his students, his players, and most of all, his family! It’s a refreshing story that is hard to find anywhere in the country.
I am 32 years old and this man looks younger than me. He keeps himself in great shape. He teaches, coaches, and is a husband and father to a great family. He may not make millions, but in my opinion, he is living the dream. He gets up every morning to a great family, goes to a job he loves and then comes home to a family he adores. Can it really get any better? The man is dedicated and I respect Bill (that’s the first I have called him anything other than Mr. Booker) for what he has done and has become as an educator, a coach, a husband and a father. Mr. Booker – thank you for the time and I hope our paths cross again soon. You are a great guy and someone the world will recognize as “The Good In Sports.”
© 2011 The Good In Sports