The driving force behind the formation of Lincoln-Way East High School’s athletic department is stepping down to become a spectator.
Athletic Director David Brost, who started the school’s athletic department 13 years ago when East was preparing to become a four-year high school, is retiring this month after 34 years of teaching and coaching.
“I’m a lucky guy,” said Brost, who has seen the Griffins win four state championships and 13 state trophies during his tenure. “I got to earn a living doing something I really loved to do – be involved in sports.”
As a child, there was nothing Brost liked more than playing baseball or basketball.
“I always had a glove on my hand,” he recalled.
As an adult, Brost set out to share his love of sports with others. He became a physical education teacher, wrestling coach and basketball coach at Orland Junior High School in 1972.
In 1984, he left the profession for a few years to work full time at a financial services business in Joliet. Six years later, Brost returned to teaching, becoming a driver’s education teacher and head wrestling coach at Crete-Monee High School.
In 1991, he was named assistant principal at Crete-Monee. He held that position for two years before returning to his Alma Mater, Reavis High School in 1993, to assume the role of athletic director.
“Who would have thought I’d go back to Reavis,” said Brost. “It was my dream job.”
But six years later, Lincoln-Way offered him an opportunity he couldn’t turn down – an opportunity to create an athletic program at a new high school.
Some people might think the task overwhelming. Not Dave Brost. He saw it as a challenge.
“Very few people get an opportunity to start on the ground floor and start a high school athletic program,” he said. “I knew that if I didn’t (take the job), I’d look back one day and regret it.”
Brost spent his first year hiring coaches, ordering equipment and establishing a Booster Club with parent volunteers.
“People stepped up to the plate,” said Brost, who tapped into their enthusiasm and pride.
It didn’t take the athletic programs long to deliver. That first fall season, when the school opened in 2001 to include just freshmen, sophomores and juniors, the East football team made the playoffs. The girls’ softball team followed suit in the spring of 2002 by achieving the unthinkable – winning the state championship its first year of existence and with only freshmen, sophomores and juniors.
“It was a remarkable accomplishment,” said Brost, who was inspired to write a book about the incredible feat titled “We Can Do This: An Amazing Story that Must Be Told for all who Believe in Miracles.”
Never in the history of Illinois high school sports had a team won a state championship in its first year without a senior class, he added.
Future state titles followed in 2005 with football, 2006 with gymnastics and 2011 again with gymnastics
Highlighting each accomplishment as well as the accomplishments of individual athletes has been the most rewarding part of Brost's job.
“That's what I'll remember the most,” said Brost, who started a tradition of honoring student athletes at an awards night in the fall, winter and spring.
“Those award nights are when you get a chance to recognize the kids and coaches,” he added. “Trying to inspire, influence, motivate and recognize student athletes and coaches – that’s the best part (of the job).”
In addition to recognizing students and coaches at awards night, the athletic director also established a Super Fan program, honoring parents and community members who regularly attend East’s sporting events to support student athletes, and a Hall of Fame, immortalizing East's outstanding athletes with a photo and nameplate. He enjoys watching grade school students walk down the hall, looking up at the photographs and trying to envision themselves pictured there one day.
“We have an edge in that respect,” said Brost. “We get them thinking about attaining excellence way before they get here.”
The programs and traditions Brost started at East will continue under the direction of Mark Vander Kooi, a physical education teacher who coached football at Lincoln-Way West High School before being tapped to take Brost’s place.
Vander Kooi began working with Brost six months ago to ensure a smooth transition.
“You’re going to like Mark Vander Kooi,” said Brost. “He will continue to bring out the best in East. His experience and integrity will prove to be an asset to the Lincoln-Way community.”
The soon-to-be retired Athletic Director may not be at every East athletic event next school year, but he does intend to keep up with East athletics and attend some games.
He just won’t be working behind the scenes to line up referees, schedule announcers and arrange transportation to away games.
“It will be like `Where’s Waldo,’” said Brost, who is looking forward to being a spectator. “It will be `Where’s Dave. I’ll be hidden in the crowd.”