New Wheeler head coach Tony Klimczak talks with players between drills Monday morning at practice. Klimczak takes over for his brother Dan. | Jeffrey D. Nicholls~Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 4, 2013 6:56AM
Diane Schmidt wanted her own little corner of the bleachers this fall when South Central played Wheeler.
She wanted to be alone, present and focused but isolated from the steady stream of Wheeler and South Central fans, who were naturally rooting for their team.
Schmidt’s heart was split right down the middle.
The truth is, it was agony for her watching her one son, Tony Klimczak, the Wheeler football coach, coach against her other son, Dan, the South Central coach.
“I would’ve really liked to have stayed home,” Schmidt said.
She was able to get through the night with a thoughtful game plan. Schmidt had considered switching sides, hanging on the Bearcats side for a half and the Satellites side for another half but she thought that was goofy.
Besides, she really didn’t want to draw attention to herself.
She rooted for South Central, quietly, because her grandson, Kane Klimczak, was a player on the team.
Pull for Kane. Can’t go wrong throwing your support behind the kid.
It was easy to use Kane for her cheering motivation but it was hard to execute. Dan and Tony were born 13 months apart, best friends and brothers growing up, and on the coaching staff together at Wheeler. They won a sectional the year before Dan left for South Central to take over as athletic director. He wasn’t even supposed to coach initially, but the Satellites fired their coach suddenly after the season started. They needed a replacement. He was the guy.
The game loomed on the schedule like a trip to the dentist for Schmidt. This wasn’t really supposed to be happening. It’s not that she didn’t want both of them to be head coaches. It’s just that they shouldn’t have to play each other. Nobody wants their kid to lose but it’s part of competition. Nobody wants to go into a game knowing with one hundred percent certainty that their child will lose. Nobody willfully wants their sons to be pitted against each other. Coaches, players, parents and fans are programmed to win together and lose together. Can’t have it both ways except for this one time and, really, it’s not the way the game is meant to be played. Family is different.
Schmidt got through it — Wheeler won 25-7 — but it wasn’t easy.
“I just wanted it to be a tie,” Schmidt said.
Schmidt did get one bonus from watching the game. She got to see her sons walk off the field, arm-in-arm, in a heartfelt exchange.
Today, when the Ravens play the 49ers in the Super Bowl, the biggest football game of the year, with more than 110 million viewers watching, I’ll be thinking of Jackie Harbaugh, the mother of John and Jim and wondering, if in some small way, she’s going through her own personal hell. Wondering if she is feeling just like Schmidt. Wondering if she can’t wait for all this to end.
I don’t know of any brother-brother, father-son combination that wants to play each other. Byrce Drew and Valparaiso won’t be playing Baylor and Scott Drew purposefully. Homer Drew never wanted to play Scott.
Jim Harrick, when he coached Rhode Island in 1998, didn’t want to coach against Jim Harrick, Jr., an assistant for VU, in the NCAA Tournament.
The storylines between the Harbaugh brothers and their father, Jack, also a football coach, and Jackie, are bountiful and interesting for us.
But they are a form of private, personal torture for the families involved. Competition is cruel and unforgiving and it can be very personal, no matter what happens after the game when hands are shaken and backs are patted. Christmas dinner won’t include chatter about the outcome.
Tony Klimczak feels like his mother. Dan found a silver lining in the deal.
“I’d prefer not to play him,” Tony said. “You don’t want to see your brother get hurt.”
Dan didn’t feel quite that way though he hardly gave it a ringing endorsement.
“I have mixed feelings about it,” he said. “It can be bittersweet but it’s a unique experience to get to coach against your brother.”
Schmidt is certain of this: She will dread that Wheeler-South Central football game forever. At least she doesn’t have to worry about the Super Bowl.