INDIAN HEAD PARK – Joe Hladik, the most decorated athlete in Lyons Township High School history, still sends his former high school coach messages when he’s on his way to a swimming meet.
Hladik, a senior swimmer at the University of Missouri, left LT and his Indian Head Park home to compete for a Division 1 school, but he’s more than kept in touch.
In April, Hladik was selected out of 14 nominees as the Southeastern Conference (SEC) Male Community Leader of the Year, which comes with a $10,000 post-graduate scholarship. Hladik, majoring in health sciences and minoring in art and psychology, can use the scholarship for the master’s in education he plans to start at Missouri in the fall after graduating May 17. He would like to teach art at the high-school level.
“I couldn’t be prouder,” said Scott Walker, Hladik’s swim coach at LT. “I guess the biggest reward is that you can have an athlete you spent so much time with keep in constant contact with you to share his joy and success. That to me is the value of education.”
Hladik was recognized for volunteering in and near the university’s home in Columbia, Mo., including his work for the MS Society, which funds research and treatment for multiple sclerosis, a chronic neurological disease. Each of his four years at Missouri, Hladik rode in a 150-mile fundraiser bike ride and persuaded teammates to volunteer at rest stops along the route.
Hladik also participated in hospital visits, where he helped facilitate an activity that had kids shoot paint at a canvas out of a syringe.
“It transforms the sign of a syringe into a play object,” Hladik said. “Each different [volunteering act] has been such a rewarding experience because you get to meet so many different people.”