Latest Athletic Hall of Fame inductees share advice, stories

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Latest Athletic Hall of Fame inductees share advice, stories

Photo by Ellen Spencer

Photo by Ellen Spencer

Photo by Ellen Spencer

Photo by Ellen Spencer

Central Times Staff

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On Feb. 1, Naperville Central added eight more names to its growing list of inductees into the Athletic Hall of Fame. This year’s group includes gymnast Steve Bajusz from the Class of 1984, Mark Ehlert, a three-sport athlete from the Class of 1988, softball standout Maureen Morris from the Class of 1989, Class of 1998 track and football star Darrien “DJ” Johnson, swimmer and 2008 alumna Amy Prestinario, retired Central soccer coach John Paskvalich, legendary Naperville coach and namesake of the annual football crosstown classic C. Weston “Wes” Spencer, and “friend of athletics” Dick Nelson.

The CT met with this year’s inductees and asked them each a few questions. Here are there responses.

What advice would you give to current student athletes?

I would say be present in the moment the time goes by fast in high school, no other chance you’ll have in your life to play in front of your community, people that you see everyday. So when you get to college if you play sports you don’t have that, or when you play for a club during the off season you won’t get that, so really embrace the moment. Don’t try thinking or looking too far ahead. I think that sometimes parents, I have two high school daughters, and sometimes I think parents and students get so focused on the future. I would just encourage you as a student athlete to embrace the moment, be present, it goes by fast, and things work out in the long run if you’re present. Don’t worry about the future, enjoy the present. – Mark Ehlbert

The teamness of it. The comradery that we had with our team, you know? I played three sports up until my junior year and I seemed to have a lot of the same athletes that were on my team and just like someone I mentioned, realizing you’re not going to be friends with every single person that’s on your team. However, we always said once you crossed that white line, this is your team, these are your friends. After you step off, then you can go your separate ways. In my work, I work with a lot of people that I may not get along with outside, but you still have to work as a team to achieve a goal. That’s really what I found with athletics here and just in general is learning how to work with a team. – Maureen Morris

My father used to tell all of his players, “Go 100 percent all the time, in every play because somebody is going to be watching film, watchin you in the game and it’s going to reflect your desire, determination and your abilities.”– Rick Spencer representing Weston Spencer

I love the quote “If you want to be great everything matters” you know so if you truly wanna be great you got to put in the work and do more than other people do and live in the moment. I think we worry about the future too much a lot of what it takes to succeed is giving 100% in the moment. – DJ Johnson

Find your passion and run with it. There are so many resources at Central that can be used to help you achieve your goals. No one here wants to see you fail. The support that this school gives to its students is unlike anything I have seen. Another piece of advice is to get involved with the other activities that are offered. Don’t get caught up in the sport. Don’t be afraid to have fun with your friends. Have fun and enjoy your high school years. You only have one chance at them. – Amy Prestinario

While it’s important to focus, you have to also keep things in perspective. Yes you want to excel, yes you want to do everything right, but you want to make sure you have enough time to do your school and classes. – Rik Nelson representing Dick Nelson

I would say, don’t take yourself too seriously, don’t take life too seriously. It’s important to have goals, but don’t be so set on your goals. Go out and experience different things. Let yourself be more well rounded. Say yes to a lot of things and let yourself experience a lot of things. Don’t be so set in your ways that you might not take chances or experiences outside of what you know. – Steve Bajusz


What is the most rewarding experience you’ve had as an athlete at Central?

I point to the team successes that we had. While I had some individual accolades that came from performing and being apart a team- I look at the team experiences. When we would win regional championship in basketball, when we won the DuPage valley conference for the first time ever in soccer and the first time ever in basketball and being apart of those teams- the celebrations the comradery the school spirit, to me that gave me the most joy out of any the accomplishments that I might’ve had. More of the memories that are cemented in my head are when we celebrate as a team than going to get individual awards. – Mark Ehlbert

Definitely my softball experience. I came in here as a freshman not even really pitching ever and getting up and hitting almost every batter that came up. A lot of people were thinking that I just couldn’t become a pitcher. But, working hard, having the athletic department allow us to come to the gym, work on our own, do things like that, to then come to be a senior where I went to second in state. Being able to use their facilities and the support from my teammates, the support from the staff, the support from the school in general [was rewarding]. – Maureen Morris

It was his whole life because being a coach in a really small town, there was such a big focus on football and athletics. He knew what he did was going to seen by people and it was going to have an impact so he wanted to have a positive impact that would last for a long time. Even for non-athletes. He taught math and he always wanted to make sure his students knew he cared about them. He was going to push them to learn and to work hard and that impacted him and how he carried out his life.  – Rick Spencer representing Weston Spencer

It taught me a lot of characteristics  I learned a lot of lessons that I apply right now. Like teamwork and integrity. – DJ Johnson

Being a swimmer it has helped me reach deadlines. When I swam in high school I would always have to balance my time between school and swimming and morning practices. Getting everything done at a reasonable time so you can get to bed and up on time. It gets you to focus on priorities. Thankfully that has carried over for me. It’s something that I use in my everyday life and I don’t think I would have learned it any other way than swimming. – Amy Prestinario

My dad was one of the fairest people I’ve ever known. Whenever he would go to games, he would treat everyone with respect and would just get into it. He was part of a larger organization. He always taught me that being the person who took the tickets was just as important as the person out on the field, in their own way. It’s important to do your best. – Rik Nelson representing Dick Nelson

It taught me very much about discipline and working hard. It takes over sports and other areas of your life if you’re dedicated and you work hard. Don’t give up, keep repeating things until you get it right, all these different things that you do in athletics go with life too. You’re gonna make some mistakes and bad choices, but if you stay dedicated to your goals you can achieve anything. – Steve Bajusz


How has your experience with sports at central continued to impact your life?

Well I would say, one would be that it inspired me because of the great coaches I had, it inspired me to want to coach and pay it forward. I’ve had the opportunity to coach my three children in basketball and soccer and getting to instill some of the things that I learned and took away from my experiences being coached by some great coaches here, so I think that one it inspired me to coach and the other it taught me how to be resilient and that’s a sill that I use every day in life. When something didn’t go right in sports, in personal or team disappointment, yet you had to learn to overcome them. If you got hurt you had to work and battle back to get healthy. So that ability to be resilient and overcome is critical to your future. – Mark Ehlbert

I have kids that played sports here, and I don’t necessarily think it’s the school. I definitely think it’s more of the parent’s involvement. You know, the parents on the stands, standing by the fence, talking to their kids while they’re trying to play the outfield, or standing behind home plate and talking to their kid while they’re pitching. That’s where I see a difference in athletics all around, not necessarily with Naperville Central. I did hear that they’re gonna be making a new softball field and making it nice and big which I think is great. That’s a long time coming, quite honestly, but as a female athlete, we understand that we’re a little lower on the totem pole than the male athletes. It’s never been a problem with me, we just worked hard to do that, but I do think in general the change is more of the parent’s participation, which I’m not a fan of.  – Maureen Morris

For him personally, I think it was coaching his three sons and teaching his daughter math. That was family so it was a joy for him to do that. Having an impact and having students and coaches respect him, that gave him great joy.  – Rick Spencer representing Weston Spencer

Having two boys is a pretty rewarding experience in itself but also playing for in the NFL it was a dream ever since I was small. – DJ Johnson

The sectional and state series meets were some of the best experiences i have been a part of. But as a whole the team I was on was just as rewarding. The one phrase ‘You’re only as strong as your weakest link’ was a motto that went around the team like crazy. We all were so strong and we worked so well together. We really lifted each other up. – Amy Prestinario

He was here for thirty years and he just enjoyed meeting up with people who graduated and talking with them. Getting back together with graduates and seeing how their lives had moved on and being in whatever career they wanted to be. He was thrilled that they were doing well. – Rik Nelson representing Dick Nelson

My most rewarding experience was winning state of our championship. That was the most rewarding one time experience. In general, it was the time that I spent with my gymnastics team working out. I can’t tell you the countless hours that I spent in the school, [during] school breaks, on the weekends. The time I spent there felt like my second home. Gymnastics was the biggest part of high school for me. It was just the feeling that it was my home away from home. – Steve Bajusz





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