In 2015, Neuqua Valley joined the DuPage Valley Conference alongside Waubonsie Valley and Metea Valley. The move ensured that the Wildcats would play head-to-head against Naperville Central on the football field every season. To commemorate the new rivalry, the Wildhawk trophy was debuted that fall in honor of Naperville Central grad and Neuqua Valley teacher and football coach, Tom Schlegel. Since passing away from Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2006, Schlegel’s memory lives on through his friends, family, and the football programs that meant the most to him. This Feature Story is sponsored by Edward-Elmhurst Health.
“Tom was a dear friend of mine growing up in Naperville. He and I graduated from Naperville Central in 1978, and he was also a baseball and football coach here at Neuqua for several years and he passed away in 2006. So we donate our game checks to the Tom Schlegel scholarship fund, and we have a blast doing the game,” said head official Jim Schrank.
Official honors best friend and former teammate
Referee Jim Schrank and his officiating crew made the trip down from Minnesota to officiate the game in Tom’s honor and have done so since the Wildhawk trophy debuted in 2015. Schrank and Schlegel both played football for Naperville Central. Schlegel and current Neuqua Valley head coach Bill Ellinghaus, were assistant coaches in the program together from the late 90’s until Tom’s death. Even with Tom not around Redhawk and Wildcat sidelines, he will always be there in spirit.
“Tom is shining down on us right down. He was a phenomenal guy. His son will be here to do the coin toss with us so that’s exciting for us. Tom gave a lot to football but gave even more to his community and to his school so it’s just a great honor to honor him in this regard,” said Neuqua Valley Football Coach Bill Ellinghaus.
The Schlegel name lives on at Neuqua Valley
Tom’s son Sam also made it to the game to do the pregame coin toss before the Redhawks and Wildcats take the field to battle for the trophy itself. Sam is excited that both programs and Schrank’s officiating crew are continuing the tradition.
“I was really excited about the football aspect but having the piece of them honoring my dad. It really meant a lot to me and my family, and we’re super grateful that Neuqua and Central are allowing this thing to go on,” said Sam Schlegel.
Neuqua Valley has helped make sure Tom’s memory is well preserved with the Tom Schlegel Memorial Fund, which awards annual grants to Neuqua Valley seniors who are pursuing careers related to physical fitness. Memorial concerts, 5K races, and donations like the ones given by Jim Schrank and his crew have helped fund the scholarships over the years.
Since the inaugural Wildhawk trophy game in 2015, the Redhawks won three out of the first four contests before Neuqua Valley won three in a row heading into this year’s matchup, which is always competitive on the field.
“It’s great football, it’s well coached, well played, a clean game, and it’s just fun being out there with the kids it’s wonderful high school football,” said Schrank.
“We want to win every game no matter what the rivalry that kinda developed not over trophy but just playing Naperville Central. Two schools in Naperville and it’s become a nice rivalry and a healthy one,” said Ellinghaus.
Redhawks take the 2023 trophy home
After the Wildcats controlled the rivalry over the Redhawks in recent years, it’s the Red and White finally lifting the trophy for the first time since 2018.
“It’s huge we were talking about this all week as we prepared for this. This was our biggest game before the season started we circled Neuqua, and we wanted them and took it to them today,” said Redhawk Wide Receiver Chris Bern.
With the win, the Redhawks have evened up the series at 4-4. Tom Schlegel would certainly appreciate how tightly contested the annual clash has become and the high level of play on the gridiron. Through friends and former colleagues and the rivalry trophy, the legacy of Coach Schlegel will carry on for many generations of Redhawks and Wildcats.
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