High School Sports

Special fathers help create special sports memories for area athletes

Mike Riley (front) and son Tim Riley together at Old Head Golf Links in Kinsale, Ireland.
Mike Riley (front) and son Tim Riley together at Old Head Golf Links in Kinsale, Ireland.

Here are some memorable stories from area athletes talking about the special sports connection between themselves and their fathers in honor of Father’s Day:

Matt Fridley, former Wesclin High and college basketball standout, on his Air Force father John Fridley’s sacrifice that allowed him to stay at Wesclin and be part of a team that won a state title:

“My dad was in the military for my entire life until my senior year. Much of that time he was not home as he volunteered to take overseas assignments, so our family did not have to move as much. We actually bonded with sports through letters while he was gone. I got to talk to him on the phone once every few months. He would write me when he could and encourage me to keep focused on what I was doing and I’d have to be discipline in my own workouts as he was not there to help me. It was hard to see a lot of my friends with their dads out working out, but I was determined to be the best I could we he got home.

“We would count the days until he got home by what sport season it was - I’ll see you in two basketball seasons. It seemed easier to deal with that than to say, I’ll see you in two years. He got orders just before my senior year and he came to me and said that if I want to stay and compete with my teammates he would retire (after 27 years in the military). I told him that we had a good thing going and I’d like to stay and finish what we started. Well, we win the state championship and I was fortunate enough to get a scholarship to play basketball in college. He sacrificed his career so I could have one.”

Former Belleville West and Southwestern Illinois College softball and volleyball player Kelly Koudelka Phillips on her father, Jerry Koudelka:

“As far back as I can remember I would go watch my dad play softball in the evenings. I would play in the dirt and chase foul balls with the other kids. I was the first grandchild on my dad’s side and even though I was a girl, my grandpa and dad made sure I could hunt, fish and throw a ball. Over time I fell in love with the smell of a ball glove and the sound of the bat hitting a ball. My dad would take me out and play catch and teach me how to hit . As I got older and he knew I wanted to catch, he would spend hours throwing balls in the dirt and teaching me how to block a ball. He coached my teams, we traveled all summer and he was always there for me. Until I got older and now that I have my own son playing, I realized what it takes to be a ball parent. I love every minute that my dad spent with me.”

Former Mascoutah High basketball player Alex Oltmann loved being able to coach alongside his father, Mascoutah High boys basketball coach Scott Oltmann, as a 20-year-old assistant last season:

“I grew up in the gym at basketball practice and going to all of the games since my dad was the coach. My whole life growing up all I dreamed about was playing for him. After games we would come home and people would come over and I would run through newspaper like the players did before the game. We had a little court made up in our basement. I lost that dream when he had stepped down my eighth-grade year. I always imagined what it would be like to play one minute for him. Then this past year, I had a pretty good experience as I was able to coach alongside him and it was one of the greatest things I have ever done.”

Former Althoff High and University of Illinois golfer Tim Riley on his father, Mike Riley:

“I remember being so excited to go play golf with my Dad growing up (and even now). He had a “regular” game with his friends that I would try to play in as much as possible, not only because I could gamble for a few dollars, but because I love to be around him. The bond that can be made between a father and a son on a golf course is amazing. My favorite memories came from being fortunate enough to play across the country in different national golf tournaments. On many of those trips, he was able to caddy for me. It was always interesting having him on the bag. Although we are older, and we ride in golf carts now, I have never stopped leaning on my Dad for advice, and truth be told, I don’t imagine I will.”

Former Marissa High baseball and basketball standout and minor-league baseball player Brian Matzenbacher on his dad, Larry Matzenbacher:

“My dad got me started playing baseball and was the first one to teach me the game and coach me. I remember going to Cardinal games with my dad and early on I knew that someday I was going to play baseball for a living. He was always there at my games with my mom. He pushed me to be better and at times at a young age i would get upset with him, but looking back I am so blessed that he pushed me as much as he did. Without him I know I would have never lived out my dream of playing professional baseball.”

Lebanon High Athletic Director and basketball coach Chad Cruthis credits his dad, longtime Alton area basketball coach Merv Cruthis, for his passion for coaching:

“When he stepped down as (Alton Marquette girls basketball) coach, I was able to get him to come be part of my staff with the boys basketball team in Lebanon. This fulfilled a dream of mine that I have had since I knew I wanted to be a coach back in junior high. When I began coaching on the girls side two years ago, I asked him to be my assistant since I had never coached girls before. He joined me again and it has been a fantastic ride. I can always learn something new from him each day and our girls love him. At 80 years old he is in better shape than many in their 40s. I am a very lucky son to have this opportunity that many sons do not have.”

Former local hockey player Chris Pondoff on his father, longtime area hockey official Tom Pondoff, who used to officiate Blues games during training camps:

“I’ve played competitive ice hockey through the junior B/A level and it was all because of my old man, who passed away a tad over four years ago. He and I lived on the ice. I wouldn’t know where to start but him getting me to meet Wayne Gretzky while he was reffing a game before the Blues-Kings that night at the old barn (the Arena) was precisely when I realized that neither Wayne, nor Peter Zezel, was my idol. It was then that I realized my dad was my real hero. Playing, reffing, and coaching were our lives, he and I.”

Okawville High baseball coach Jackie Smith on his father, former Trico High baseball, basketball and golf coach Jack Smith:

“I would routinely go to practices with him, and for a time, I thought the gym and baseball field were mine. When I was about 5 he gave me a scorebook and I would keep stats and score for Indiana Hoosier games on TV. He would take me to Cardinal games and point out defensive things before the at-bat, and always ask why they did certain things to build my knowledge. I was always molded to know the game and play a certain way. One of the more special things for myself, and my assistants Cameron Obermeier and Beau Barkau, was that all three of our fathers went to majority of the (Okawville baseball) games, and typically sat close to the dugout. After every game we all went to our fathers and discussed the game, and even after years of playing and several coaching, we are still learning the game from our fathers.”

Former Lebanon High and college pitcher Jeff Sonsoucie on his dad, Randy Sonsoucie:

“I remember waiting by the door for him to get home from work everyday around 5:30 for him to play catch with me in the yard. That’s where it all started, and he taught me everything I know. He never once, that I can remember, turned me down for a game of catch.”

Former Mater Dei and Southwestern Illinois College basketball player Megan Dooley on her father, longtime Carlyle High football and basketball coach Randy Dooley:

“Obviously, my Dad played a huge impact on not only my love for basketball, but for sports in general. I couldn’t get enough time with my Dad. Since I was old enough to walk, I was the water girl for the football team and even begged him to let me sit on the bench during basketball season. Being around him growing up as he coached made me a better person and athlete.”

Freeburg High girls volleyball coach and former Red Bud and McKendree volleyball standout Brooke Kloess on her father, area volleyball and baseball official Jeff Toenjes and his impact on her and brother Corey Toenjes:

“My dad has coached us in practically every sport — from volleyball to select softball, basketball, and football — and allowed us every opportunity possible. He never turned down a game of tennis, ping-pong, or a game of horse in the driveway, either. As most families do, my parents chauffeured me from one sporting event to the next. Also, most dads are protective of their little girls, but my dad was willing to let me play football (I was the only girl on the team), boys basketball, and fill in for my older brother’s baseball team when they didn’t have enough players. Because of this, I have become a very strong-willed, independent individual and can confidently coach future generations.”

Norm Sanders: 618-239-2454, @NormSanders

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton surprised shoppers at the Target store in Stonecrest, North Carolina on June 16, 2016, and helped several shoppers pick out Father's Day gifts.