Skip Birdsong, who led the Granite City High girls soccer team to the Class 3A state championship in 2011, will try to work the same magic with the Althoff boys soccer team.
Birdsong, 42, has been hired as the Crusaders new coach, replacing Joe Burchett. Birdsong is in his second year as principal at St. Teresa Catholic School in Belleville, and he becomes the fifth coach at Althoff since Juergen Huettner resigned at the end of the 2008 season.
Since Huettner left, the Crusaders have been coached by Brad Dietrich (one season), Matt Reeb (one season), Bernie Thebeau (two seasons) and Burchett (three seasons).
“My son (Dillon) is a sophomore there,” Birdsong said. “That’s obviously why I’m a little more aware of the situation than maybe I normally would be. The other thing is, since I’ve come to St. Teresa, I see Dave (Harris, the Althoff principal) in our meetings and things like that.
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“I’m happy for the opportunity to help out at another diocesan school. That’s important to me as well. If you have the ability and the skills to things like that, I think you should always help when you can. They agreed and I have that opportunity.”
Birdsong also coached the Granite City boys team from 2007-09. He replaced Gene Briggs midway through the girls season of 2009, then returned in 2010 and 2011. The Warriors beat Naperville North 1-0 at Naperville Central High in the Class 3A title game in 2011. It was Birdsong’s final game, since he then became a principal at the high school.
It’s hard to pass on a state champion. He’s got a great pedigree. Everybody I talked to in Steel City spoke very highly of him. ... We’re really looking forward to helping Skip in this next phase of our soccer program.
Althoff Athletics Director Greg Leib on new boys soccer coach Skip Birdsong
“I was fortunate enough to be selected for that,” Birdsong said. “The down side to that was, along with that came no more coaching. I do miss it. I have missed it. This is a great opportunity now to do two things I love and continue on with coaching.”
Granite City’s championship in 2011 completed a metro-east trifecta of titles. Alton Marquette won the Class 1A championship and Triad earned the Class 2A title.
“If you think about how unusual that is, that’s a pretty amazing feat,” Birdsong said.
Althoff Athletics Director Greg Leib praised Birdsong’s accomplishments in soccer.
“It’s hard to pass on a state champion,” Leib said. “He’s got a great pedigree. Everybody I talked to in Steel City spoke very highly of him. We appreciate all the work Joe did for us, and now we’re really looking forward to helping Skip in this next phase of our soccer program.”
As a player, Birdsong was a part of state-championship teams at Granite City as a junior in 1989 and as a senior in 1990 under legendary coach Gene Baker. Birdsong graduated in 1991.
I can deal with mistakes. They’re going to happen. None of us are perfect. I can certainly deal with physical mistakes, even some mental mistakes. But nobody can keep you from playing hard except yourself. You’ve got to work hard. You’ve got to bust your butt. If you do that, you’ll always have a shot to get on the field.
New Althoff boys soccer coach Skip Birdsong
Birdsong said Baker’s tactics never are far away.
“Especially when it comes to structuring a program and what that’s actually supposed to look like, there’s no question I implement as much of what I can remember at this point as to how (Baker) did it,” Birdsong said. “Just the respect and all the things he obviously demanded back then that are so important to athletics. It pays off in the end.”
Althoff was 11-11-3 last season and reached the championship game of the Class 1A Gibault Sectional, where it lost to Anna-Jonesboro 2-1 at Oerter Park in Columbia.
The Crusaders return a handful of their top players, including Birdsong, Jimmy Monken, Tyler Stone, Stephen Waltrip and Mitchell Kidd. Monken had 17 goals and eight assists, Waltrip had eight goals and six assists and Kidd had seven goals and three assists.
“Jimmy has played for me (at the club level) for a number of years,” Birdsong said. “I’m very familiar with him. They had a nice freshman class last year, with some kids getting a lot of playing time. And there were a couple of other sophomores who will now be juniors. Hopefully, we have another good freshman class coming in as well. The one thing about it, they’ll have an opportunity to play. That’s for sure. We’re looking forward to it.”
Birdsong considers himself a demanding coach when it comes to work ethic.
“You’re going to work on it,” he said. “I can deal with mistakes. They’re going to happen. None of us are perfect. I can certainly deal with physical mistakes, even some mental mistakes. But nobody can keep you from playing hard except yourself. You’ve got to work hard. You’ve got to bust your butt. If you do that, you’ll always have a shot to get on the field.”
Birdsong said he’s been asked whether he’s coaching just because his son is on the team.
“The reality is no,” he said. “I know more about the situation because he’s there, but he’s going to leave in two years, and while I don’t know if I’m going to do this for 25 years, who knows what will happen between now and then. I don’t have an end date in mind, either. I plan on being able to do this for a while and sticking with it. I would like to add some stability because they have gone through a lot of coaches.”
Birdsong and his wife, Ann, have three other children: daughter Madison, a seventh-grader, daughter Brianna, a fourth-grader, and son Tyler, a second-grader.