John Wander doesn’t plan on giving up his headset.
Or leaving the Downers Grove area.
He just won't be a head coach.
After serving 16 years as an assistant coach and the last 16 as the head coach, Wander resigned as the varsity football coach at Downers Grove North earlier this month.
Wander, a Downers Grove resident who lives close to the school, notched a 90-79 record and led the Trojans to the Class 8A state championship in 2004. In all, Wander guided the Trojans to 10 playoff appearances. Downers Grove North finished with a 5-5 record this season, losing to Normal in the first round of the 7A playoffs
Wander, a 1984 Downers Grove North graduate and former player, cited family reasons for his decision to step down. Wander said he would like to continue on the Downers Grove North staff, if the new coach approves it.
“I’ve been a part of this program since I’ve been watching games since I was eight or nine years old,” Wander said. “I’ve always had the dream one day be the head coach. I had a blessed opportunity to do it for 16 years. I hope to continue my tenure being a position coach and spend time more with my kids.
“It’s really rough, but I’m not getting out of it all together, just stepping down as the head coach. I haven’t left Downers Grove in 51 years and don’t plan on it soon. Each of those kids have been special. Each of my two boys are going through there now. I also didn’t want to be the head coach with my boys going through the school.”
Downers Grove North athletic director Denise Kavanaugh noted that Wander created a family atmosphere with his players. Kavanaugh said Wander’s players “don’t text their coach, they stop by [his house].”
She recalls many fond memories of Wander’s tenure, including a Thanksgiving meal with the Trojans’ 2004 state title team on the football field.
“John Wander is a coach of kids first and of football second,” she said. “His number one priority was having a football program be like a family. He helped in cultivating and continuing our traditions with the football program and marching band. He supports all sports as well.”
Wander is only the fourth varsity football coach since 1955 at Downers Grove North.
Wander, ironically, is linked to all three head coaches. He played for Dick Carstens, was an assistant under Pete Ventrelli and former coach Bill Kleckner is currently an assistant.
Wander said the state championship, obviously, is a special year, but he cherished every season coaching.
“Each year brought a special memory, new kids, an excitement and spirit and experiences,” he said. “The state championship was special, but there have been other great years and kids. I had fun working with them all for all those years. I appreciate the community and everyone who sent their kids my way.”