Jeff Vorva's Extra point: The best story of the day was Coach Stu's surprise visit

  • Written by Jeff Vorva




Photo courtesy of Cora Umecker

Richards girls swimming coach Joel Staszewski, who has been hospitalized since June, made a surprise appearance at the Downers Grove South sectional and poses with some of his swimmers on Saturday.



It was quite a day and night in sports on Saturday.

Around the country, college football’s second-, third- and fourth-ranked teams were picking up their jaws off the field after they were shocked.

Around Illinois, volleyball state championships were won and lost, football quarterfinals seemingly provided a million storylines and girls swimming sectionals were in full swing.

In our area, it’s tough to beat McAuley, ranked No. 1 in the nation, winning a three-set battle with Minooka to win the Illinois High School Association or 12th seeded St. Laurence knocking out No. 1 seed Lemont in football.

But my favorite story from Saturday didn’t come from any of that. It came in the swimming pool area at Downers Grove South involving a sixth-place team that didn’t even qualify a state swimmer.

Richards participated in the Downers Grove South Sectional and the Bulldogs swimmers received a huge surprise when their coach, Joel Staszewski, showed up.

I wrote about him at the beginning of the season. The man known to most as Coach Stu had gastric bypass surgery performed in June and complications from a bacterial infection gave him stroke-like symptoms, robbing him of his ability to eat and speak. He nearly died because of those complications.

During the season, many South Suburban Conference teams have raised money for the coach’s family – his wife Jill and children Emma (age 12), Timothy (4) and triplets Claire, Nora and Lillian (2).

The Richards community was jazzed up for a possible Stu sighting at the SSC meet a couple of weeks ago, but he was still at the hospital and it didn’t happen.

On Friday, interim coach Cora Umecker wanted the coach to see his troops perform in sectional play so bad, she set up a Facebook account so he could watch the event live from the comfort of his bed.

When he showed up in Downers Grove in his wheelchair, the Bulldogs were stunned and thrilled.

“No one told me they were coming, it was the best surprise ever,” Umecker said. “It was very emotional for everyone, and not just my team. So many swimmers and coaches came to say hello. It was heartwarming.’’

The only bad news to this story is that Coach Stu is not 100 percent. He still has a long way to go.

“He is improving but, as expected, it's a long process,” Umecker said. “He has still not been home since the initial procedure in June. He is currently rehabilitating at a center in Chicago.

“This swim season was really incredible. Watching all of the other teams join the ‘Stu Crew’ was so inspiring. Seeing them all come together like that was probably the biggest show of sportsmanship I've ever seen. We would gather to take a ‘Stu Crew’ photo at invites and meets, and I'd go back to look at the shot and see all these girls from different teams standing together, smiling, arms around each other. None of them look like they just had a heated competition ten minutes earlier. It was great.’’ 

The coach has not even seen his home yet in five months, but as Umecker said “This man showed up for his girls.’’

Umecker said all along that she is just keeping the seat warm for Coach Stu and had a few things to say to him before he returned to Chicago.

“At the end of the meet, I handed him my clip board, pencil and heat sheet and told him my work is done,’’ she said. “It's time for Coach Stu to get back to this team.’’