October 19, 2016
Listen to a conversation with Jeremiah Lebron and Bolingbrook’s head baseball coach Scott Thyer. Read about this remarkable multi-sport athlete and hear the conviction in his voice as he describes the building blocks for his stellar young career.
These are two very cool guys with some fascinating things to say about the game we love.
Listen while you read.
From the Chicago Tribune January 28, 1985
Brian Jackson was one of Will County’s finest athletes of the 1980’s. When he moved the ball across half court all five defenders started backpedaling. He was quicksilver slick as he distributed the ball for perennial state power Lockport.
Jackson’s coach was the legendary and embattled Bob Basarich. Basarich had an interesting comment a year later.
“I think the only lasting feeling I have is I hate to see any youngster go through what he went through and be guilty of it,” Basarich said. “What bothered me was so many people, adult people, made him guilty before he went to court. There were so many people who wanted to see him guilty. I think that was a heavy thing hanging over him all the time.”
Basarich might have sounded like a coach who lost his all-state point guard and any chance at another State Championship. But if you listen a little closer there’s a lot of humanity in that statement. Maybe all Brian Jackson needed was a pair of empathetic adult ears at the time of his devastating decision.
The Choices of Legends
When you grow up in Will County, or any county, you know who the best athletes are. Even if they don’t put on a high school uniform these savants are legendary in their neighborhoods, in their junior highs, and on their summer teams. And players know players. If you played any sport seriously you can recognize the best in a heartbeat. They beat you without trying and cut your heart out.
If it was only the games. But it’s not. It’s school, it’s practice, it’s crazy adults, and it’s The Road Not Taken. You can’t do the same things, or act the same ways, that so many other people do.
It hardly seems fair, but that’s how it works. If you are an exceptional athlete you can have all the world offers. That’s everything. The best and worst. Lots of normal people experience the worst; not as many experience the best.
A young athlete’s career takes on the characteristics of any other creative endeavor. It’s risky. You have to put yourself out there. You have to remain confident that your skills will make you survive and thrive – financially and spiritually. It’s not law or medicine, retail or driving a bus. It’s a lifestyle that demands an enormous amount of self-discipline at a young age.
Success is relative. Many athletes, actors, or rock stars reach a level of “success” that provides a tremendous amount of privilege. That doesn’t mean anyone is entitled to this treatment – especially an unproven 17 year old athlete. Injuries, tragedy, mistakes. Many unpredictable events can occur in high school or college.
There are no statistics to prove this theory, but today’s young athletes seem wildly more mature and aware than kids in the 1980’s. That doesn’t mean that today’s young people don’t face the same serious challenges.
Jeremiah Lebron: Decision Time
WillCountyBaseball.org got the chance to talk to one of Will County’s finest 2016-17 athletes about being a highly recruited two-sport athlete. Jeremiah Lebron is a ferocious hitter/outfielder for Scott Thyer’s emerging Bolingbrook Raiders baseball team. He’s also a star running back for John Ivlow’s successful football program.
Lebron has been very careful with his high school career; and that caution has allowed him the ultimate freedom to decide where he begins the rest of his life. Jeremiah has chosen to attend the University of Illinois to play baseball.
Jeremiah had many choices facing him in 2016. He’s about as far away from Brian Jackson’s problems as the 30 years that separates their careers. But Jeremiah is 17. He has friends. He has school work to complete. He has enormous responsibilities to Bolingbrook and a commitment to a world class university.
That doesn’t seem to faze him. He’s bright, confident, and engaging. When you talk to someone as driven as Jeremiah it’s a little intimidating – even though he’s 17. He says ALL the right things, and when your’e done talking you leave convinced that he’ll end up in the Hall of Fame or run the next company you work for.
Listen to Bolingbrook head football coach John Ivlow talk about Jeremiah’s specs and what makes him special running from the football field across the baseball diamond:
“The first thing you got to do is start with his physical stature. He’s a six foot tall kid 240 plus pounds. Can run like a deer. And just has unmatched, natural skills…
“He’s going to be successful. I don’t care what sport it is. He’s just kind of a once in a lifetime, once every ten years type of guy you get through your program. Athletic, smart. And the carryover is probably just going to be his speed. His overall speed.”
Coach Thyer joined our conversation as we talked about the foundation for Jeremiah’s sparkling young career. It’s not a complicated game plan; but execution doesn’t always play out like the chalkboard. Sort of like a well-executed football play it takes a lot of moving parts to keep the Jeremiah Lebron train steaming toward the future.
It starts with his parents. Jeremiah was adamant about the positive influence he gets at home. He talks about how he keeps his eyes on the prize:
“My future has hung over me ever since I was little. I’ve always had a dream and a goal. And anything that comes against that or that can deter my life path from that goal I immediately stop…
“As a Division I athlete I’m going to be singled out more than everyone else. So that’s just always been drilled into my head from my father. To just walk with integrity and remember who you are.”
Like most young athletes, coaches have played critical roles for Lebron. He has had the fortune of playing for Thyer and Bolingbrook’s state champion football coach John Ivlow. Coach Thyer talks about adversity and how the family concept of a team helps people through corrective rather than punitive action:
“Families have adversity that they go through together. And when something bad happens in a family that’s when that bond and that trust in one another is really tested.
“And I think our bond together – not just Jeremiah and myself – but our entire group is extremely close and extremely tight knit. And we don’t let each other make a mistake without helping them to understand how to correct a mistake moving forward.”
There are incredibly important reasons that people dedicate their lives to silly games. It’s part of education. Winning will sustain many sports programs, but only the hard work of tough decisions will make them enduring.
Adversity is something everyone knows about. It’s personal and it requires support. Naturally, we seek the solace of family. For so many athletes teams are family. That family is part of a school. Everything has to be managed.
Joliet Catholic Academy is nationally recognized for its football program. Mike Nadeau was Dean of Students at Joliet Catholic during the heights of their dominance. His tough, but fair, reign over discipline at the school set the tone for everybody who walked its hallways.
Former Joliet Catholic Dean of Students Mike Nadeau talks about how he treated kids who got into trouble:
“…I really, I loved that job. Because you take a knucklehead, and you had to throw some jugs (detention) at him, and be mean to him, and threaten him, and this and that. But I always thought there were four things. Fair, Firm, Friendly, Factual.
“…You need to be fair. And you treat everybody the same. You have to be firm. I don’t care if he’s the star football player. He gets the same punishment as every other kid gets. And do it with a smile on your face. And then I always spent time with the kid after – whoever it was who took the rap, took the punishment – explaining to him, not explaining, but making him find out what he could do differently.”
Jeremiah Lebron would probably thrive anywhere, but it sure helps to have coaches and administrators who care. Scott Thyer cares. He’s building a baseball program built on trust and accountability – family. He’s not alone. Will County is home to many, many special people in sports.
When it gets warm in May take the time to get out and see kids like Jeremiah Lebron play baseball. These players are amazing. All the hype and all the media and all the recruiting cannot diminish their talent and maturity.
Will County baseball is truly blessed with a remarkable cast of coaches. There are 21 baseball programs and more than half went to or won regional finals. Reed-Custer and Providence brought home state championships.
The success is undisputed and the legacy is infinite. The coaching trees and relationships are endless. From little league to travel to high school a baseball team is a family. And a baseball program is a community.