BELLEVILLE — It was in 1987 when Mike Juenger graduated from Belleville West and enrolled at Belleville Area College where he would play baseball and basketball.
Now, more than 27 years later, BAC has since been renamed Southwestern Illinois College and while Juenger isn't the athlete he once was, his love for the college remains the same.
A successful coach of SWIC's women's basketball program for the past 17 years, Juenger has been named as the Blue Storm's athletic director.
Juenger, 44, takes over for Jay Harrington who retired last month after more than 30 years. Harrington also retired as the Blue Storm's men's basketball coach.
"I didn't want to see coach Harrington leave. He's been my mentor for the past 24 years and been a true father-figure in my life. Unfortunately, situations come up and he had to leave,'' Juenger said. "I never really thought about it, because he had been here so long.
"But to be named as the new athletic director at SWIC ... I'm ecstatic. I love this school and I love this place. I'm way excited.''
Juenger had been the interim athletic director for the past several weeks.
On Wednesday, SWIC's Board of Trustees appointed him as the permanent AD.
Well-known and admired throughout the metro-east, Juenger said Thursday that he had already received nearly 100 text messages and emails from friends congratulating him.
"I'm just very happy. My mom is probably more excited about this than anybody, because she knows how much time and what this school means to me. Heck, I'm here all the time,'' Juenger said. "The biggest thing about this school is that the President, Dr. (Georgia) Costello, is wonderful to work for. Vice President Staci Clayborne, the board, the administration, the staff, they are all great.
"They want athletics to succeed and are very supportive in helping to do that.''
Juenger will remain as the women's basketball coach. Under his guidance, the Blue Storm has developed into a strong program.
In 17 seasons, Juenger has a record of 335-182 and led the Blue Storm to the NJCAA Division I National Tournament five times, including each of the last three years.
Juenger is a five-time NJCAA Region 24 Coach of the Year.
While running an athletic department and coaching will put him the test, Juenger is ready for the challenge.
"I will be busy. But that's fine. It's enjoyable to stay busy when you're doing the things that you love to do,'' Juenger said. "The first five or six months will be a time of adjustment and things to figure out such as time management. The last five years I've been to all the games and been the facility coordinator.
"I just have to be a little more prepared about what is going on within the entire athletic program. I just hope I'm able to fulfill everything and do everything that people want me to do here.''
One of Juenger's first major jobs at SWIC will be helping to hire a men's basketball coach.
"I'm not aware of any specific timetable we have to hire a new men's coach. I'm sure we'll meet to discuss the position,'' Juenger said.
Juenger said he will continue to stress the importance of being a solid person and student-athlete at SWIC.
"We want to continue to develop great student-athletes here with academics coming first always and then athletics," Juenger said. "When you think about it, how many people actually go on to become professional athletes? Very few. Therefore you need to be academically sound.
"That's why it's so wonderful to work here. Look what our president and vice president did. They put in this academic center with 23 computers to aid the student-athletes in any way they can.''
Juenger is looking forward to continuing to meet the challenge of working with young people and helping them become productive citizens.
"I think one of the reasons I enjoy it so much is because I love being part of these kids lives, to see them become young adults and then see them move on,'' Juenger said. "That's why you do it. The reason the kids come here is because they trust you and they trust the school."