Naperville Central’s Pete Kramer retires after 33 seasons with the Redhawks

Donate Today Buy This Video

 Pete Kramer from Naperville Central has spent almost his entire coaching career on the Redhawk sidelines, but this season will be his last. 

“Last year and the beginning of this year, I just realized that It’s my time to move on,” said Pete Kramer, Head Boys Basketball Coach for Naperville Central. “This place has been great, It’s been a great job for my whole working career.”

Kramer’s basketball journey – from Waterloo to Naperville

After graduating from the University of Iowa in 1988, Kramer began teaching and coaching the sophomore team at Iowa City High School. Three years later, he was offered the sophomore job at Naperville Central, a position he held for over a decade before eventually being named head coach of the red and white in 2003. 

At NCHS, Kramer was also a P.E. teacher and served in many different assistant football coaching positions. He was a part of two state championships for the Redhawk football squad in 1999 and 2013.

Before he was a coach, Kramer was setting records as a player at Colombus Catholic in Waterloo, Iowa. His basketball worlds collided this winter when the Redhawks traveled to Waterloo where they defeated his alma mater 64-47.

“My name was in the gym, I didn’t even know it,” said Kramer. “But they pointed it out to me that I had the best three-point percentage in a career, 44%. So that was kind of funny there, the kids were like, ‘Coach, you could shoot?’ Yeah, I could shoot.”

The intensity was always high when Kramer was on the sidelines

Kramer always brought the energy on the sidelines. Chris Conway, a 2020 grad and current forward at Oakland University, met the Redhawk coach in elementary school when playing with Kramer’s son, Aidan.

“At that time, I thought he was a super chill dude, a great guy, and then when I went to the high school games, I saw he had a different side,” said Conway. “He’d get intense, you know, he’d get after it a little bit. Still a great guy, but I just didn’t know he had that fire in him. But once I got to high school my freshman year, he made me feel welcome right away.”

Ending his career as the second-winningest coach at NCHS

That intensity helped Kramer become the second-winningest coach in Naperville Central history, with 331 wins, and 239 losses, only behind his mentor and predecessor, Bob Sterr with 347 wins, and 245 losses.

“He was like a second father to me, just a great man, and I learned a lot from him,” said Kramer.

“Just the patience that Coach Sterr had, I wanted to try to soak that up because I was a little bit more of a fiery coach,” Kramer continued. “I watched him throughout my 12 years as a sophomore coach and I was on the bench with him and just tried to learn as much as possible. I had some things that I knew I wanted to do, but I learned a ton from him at the same time.”

The most memorable seasons for Naperville Central’s Pete Kramer

Coach Kramer fit into the role of leading the varsity roster in no time. In just his second year as head coach in 2004-05, Kramer led the 10th-seeded Redhawks to an upset win over number-one seed Neuqua Valley in the Regional Finals. The Redhawks won the sectional championship over Batavia before falling in the super sectionals to Downers Grove South, just one game shy of state.

In the 2008-09 season, Kramer led the Redhawks to a 27-3 record, the best season in school history, before falling to Neuqua Valley in sectionals. That team featured Drew Crawford, the program’s all-time leading scorer and rebounder, who went on to be a 3rd Team All-Big Ten selection at Northwestern and a professional player overseas.

Another great season came in 2015-16, a team led by Matthew Meier and Harry Hallstrom. Despite not having Division-I level talent, team chemistry was high. A pair of managers, Doug and Joe, helped bring a spark to the locker room with the help of their coach.

“It was after a big win, all the players had come back to the locker room,” said Harry Hallstrom. “Kramer came in and picked Joe up pretty much above his head and everybody was going nuts.”

In that postseason, the nine-seeded Redhawks were in front of the number one-seeded Benet Redwings with under two minutes remaining in the Regional Finals. Benet, however, went on to win 41-37 and eventually finish as the runner-up at the 4A IHSA State Finals.

Perhaps the biggest “what if” in Kramer’s career came in 2020. In mid-March, a red-hot Naperville Central was scheduled to take on Lake Park in the Sectional final. Unfortunately, just like the rest of the world, the season shut down due to the COVID-19 Pandemic.

The path looked good for us, said Naperville Central’s Pete Kramer. “As a coach, you only get maybe three chances (to get to State) and that was probably my third chance to maybe get down there, I thought we were going to do it.”

Coaching 15 sets of brothers and other Redhawk stars

While Kramer coached a lot of talented basketball players, his teams also featured outstanding athletes who became well-known for their athletic success beyond the hardwood. That includes the likes of Super Bowl champion tight end Cameron Brate, college football standout quarterback Payton Thorne, and MLB gold glove finalist Nicky Lopez.

“He meant a lot to me, he believed in me,” said Nicky Lopez, infielder for the Chicago White Sox. “In high school, I wasn’t the biggest, I’m still not, but he would put me in there every single game, trusted my ability, and always saw the good in me, which was great. He had an unbelievable career here at Naperville Central.”

Family was a major theme during his time at Naperville Central, Kramer coached 15 sets of brothers, including two of his sons, Aidan and Nick, both of whom could shoot like their father.

Pete Kramer would like to thank the following brothers who came through Naperville Central; Ondik’s, Czarnowki’s, Antony’s, Baskin’s, Meier’s, Dahl’s, Kramer’s, Jopes’s, Wolf’s, Zelinski’s, Kirk’s, Linne’s, Maloney’s, Pomeroy’s, and Daniel’s.

All of those brothers got to experience the same personality Kramer always had as a coach. A ceremony was held on January 27 before Kramer’s final home game, and it was his final time hyping up the boys in the NCHS locker room.

The video story shows pregame footage of Kramer getting the team locked in.

“He’s been doing that forever and you come in there and everyone’s kind of quiet, some people are nervous, some people are just sitting there,” said Conway. He’ll kind of break the ice a little bit and start screaming and hitting the ball or clapping or something like that. We’ll all just start laughing and having a good time. So he knows kind of when to be a little bit goofy or just be locked in, but he has a good balance for sure.”

Kramer’s last dance in the original “March Madness”

Kramer will now coach his final postseason run when the Redhawks take on Oswego on Monday, February 19. In terms of the standings, it’s been a tough year for Naperville Central, but Kramer is still proud of his team.

“You can look at our record, “Oh tough year”, but you know what? it’s been a fun year, and I’m proud of the players for making it fun.”

Pete Kramer isn’t quite sure what he will do once the school year ends, but he will always remember the kids at Naperville Central.

“Everybody talks about how good the school is academically and everything else. But I always tell the kids, this school is good. It’s because of the kids. The kids make the school good. So do the teachers. So do the coaches, sort of this administration. But you got to have good kids,” said Kramer.

For more prep sports stories, visit the Naperville Sports Weekly page!