Tom Ptak announced recently he is stepping down as Illinois Valley Community College women’s basketball coach after six seasons.
Ptak led the 2016-17 team that included Daniela Pavlovich, Hannah Wolfe and Julia Pohar to the Region IV District II championship game and was twice named Arrowhead Conference Coach of the Year.
Despite struggling to field teams of 10 or more players, Ptak’s squads remained competitive. Hired in July 2013, Ptak scrambled to put a team together – a unit that would go on to win a surprising 12 games.
“I know when we entered the gym with the small number of players we had, other teams counted it as a victory. That year an opposing coach told me, ‘Your team plays hard.’ To me, when you can get the most out of your talent, that is the greatest compliment you can get,” Ptak said.
A 1975 St. Bede Academy graduate and three-sport star, Ptak’s mentor was legendary Bruin football coach John Gaughan.
“Coach Gaughan always said if your team was better at the end of the season than it was at the beginning, you did your job. I believe we did that at IVCC,” Ptak said.
Ptak’s coaching style over a 22-year career was supportive rather than confrontational.
“I never believed in being in-your-face or making players uncomfortable. I told my players I was their biggest fan. I didn’t want them looking over their shoulder if they made a mistake,” he said.
“No one wants to be embarrassed. I wanted my players to relax and have fun. My teams knew I believed in them.”
Team-building events included a fall trip to Chicago where players toured the Lakefront on bikes, viewed architectural landmarks and saw – from the 25th floor of a building overlooking Grant Park – the path the Great Chicago Fire had taken.
“I wanted to expose them to things they were unaware of,” he said. “Those trips will have a greater impact on the players as they grow older.”
Ptak largely recruited only in-district players and had success with that model “but that got tougher and tougher.”
He praised the support he received from IVCC Athletic Director Cory Tomasson, President Jerry Corcoran and administrative assistant Sue Harding – “mother of the athletic department.”
“Everyone provided me everything I needed to be successful. I was never pressured over wins and losses. Foremost, they care about their student athletes and ensure they are students first,” he said.
His greatest support came from spouse Lynn Cawley who encouraged his players and provided them with thoughtful kindnesses such as special-order basketball cookies.
“I could never do what I do without Lynn,” he said.
Aside from coaching, Ptak operates a family funeral home, assists with Lynn’s busy hair salon and is the city of La Salle’s longest serving alderman.
“What I will miss most about coaching is the relationships you develop with players,” he said.