Dustin Battas received an early birthday present Monday night.
That's when Battas, who turns 36 on Friday, learned that he had been hired to replace Mike Waldo as the Edwardsville High boys basketball coach. Battas, a native of Mascoutah, has been the Tigers' junior-varsity coach for the last seven years.
"It's still a little bit surreal," Battas said. "You get so busy being an assistant coach and trying to do the best job with that you can. I'm a little bit overwhelmed. It's certainly exciting."
Battas said he tried not to think about being one of the top contenders for the job.
"Out of appreciation for the job Coach Waldo did, and out of appreciation for the level of job I think Edwardsville is, I didn't really allow myself to think about it much," he said. "You hope your reputation is good enough that you're at least considered for the job.
"They could have posted this online and probably gotten hundreds of applicants from all over the state and all over the Midwest. That's the type of job it is. Coach Waldo has made the program into a Top 10-type of basketball program in the state of Illinois."
Waldo, who was hired in 1988 to replace Bud Vallino, was 646-215 in 30 seasons at Edwardsville, with 10 Southwestern Conference championships. He won 21 regionals and seven sectionals, and made five state-tournament appearances. Overall, Waldo was 727-266 in 35 seasons, including five at Alton Marquette.
Edwardsville was 18-9 last season, falling 68-44 to Class 4A state-champion Belleville West in the championship game of the O'Fallon Regional. The Tigers will have a new-look team next season with leading scorer Jack Marinko and Caleb Strohmeier graduating. Marinko, a guard, averaged 26 points and his 701 points are second-most for a single season at the school.
Learning the ropes under an Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Famer like Waldo provided Battas with experience he says will help him in his new position.
"The biggest thing on my resume is I got to spend 13 years around him," said Battas, who joined the program in 2005 as a volunteer assistant for the freshman-sophomore team. "They respected Coach Waldo enough and knew how brilliant of a job he did that they wanted me to fill in for him. I hope we can hit the ground running and carry on his excellence."
Battas played under coach Scott Oltmann at Mascoutah, graduating in 2000. He graduated from the University of Illinois in 2004. After his first year in the Edwardsville program, he became the eighth-grade coach at Lincoln Middle School for five seasons, while also serving Waldo as a scout. He led Lincoln to a state championship in 2008.
Battas was the junior-varsity coach at the high school from 2011 until last season.
His older brother, Scott, is the athletics director at Mascoutah and was a former assistant football coach under Tim Dougherty at Edwardsville.
Waldo was tireless when it came to scouting upcoming opponents.
"It was amazing," Dustin Battas said. "We get films now, but if he could go see them live, he would. There were games when I said, 'Coach, we'll be getting the film. We'll have it tomorrow.' He would go, 'Well, I'd like to get a head start on it tonight. I'm just going to go watch them live.' He didn't want to miss anything or he didn't trust the technology. (He would say), 'What if the Internet goes down?'"
Battas said there were other head-coaching opportunities in the last few years, but he enjoyed being at Edwardsville. His wife, Ashley, and children Beckett and Brooks, live in Glen Carbon.
"There really wasn't a Plan B," Battas said of what he might have done had he not been the replacement for Waldo. "My wife and I really enjoy the Edwardsville community. We were in no rush. Certainly, it was a goal of mine to become a head coach at some point, but not to the extent where I was going to uproot my family and move somewhere else just to be a head coach. That's really why this is such a blessing for us."