Two assistant coaches who have earned promotions are among the four new Evanston Township High School head coaches approved at the September 15 District 202 Board of Education meeting for the 2015-16 school year.
Katie Johnson (girls softball) and Meghan Gordon (girls gymnastics) will take over their respective programs, joined by Frank Erwin (boys gymnastics) and Justin Porter (boys lacrosse), according the ETHS Athletic Director Chris Livatino.
Johnson succeeds Luella Gesky after serving as the junior varsity softball coach for the past three seasons. Last year she guided the JV squad to a 17-8 won-loss record, one of the most successful seasons in school history at that level, despite the fact that one of the team’s pitchers was promoted to the varsity midway through the season and three of the players on that squad have never played organized softball before.
Johnson, who previously has been a head coach at both Holy Trinity and Senn of the Chicago Public League, has also played a key role in the development of the Evanston Express feeder program and views the growth of that program as a way to inject talent into a varsity program that has only posted two winning seasons since 1997.
“Most of our staff is involved with the Evanston Express in one way or another, and this year they’re hoping to have 5 or 6 teams, including a high school age travel team for the first time,” Johnson said. “That’s very exciting. As a community Evanston has so many resources for young girls to be involved with, and I’m definitely hoping the feeder program will have an impact for us.
“Because of the feeder program I’m finding there is a higher level of competitiveness for the girls coming into high school now. I’ve set some very high expectations, for the kids and for the coaches, and I’m also going to implement an off-season program next fall.”
Johnson was an all-conference player all four years at Ottawa Marquette High School, where she also played basketball and volleyball. She was team MVP two years in softball and played four years at St. Xavier University.
She also coached volleyball, softball and basketball at Plainfield North and coached three sports at Senn between 2010 and 2012.
Gordon and Erwin will take over the programs led by Chester Jones for 23 seasons before his retirement last spring. Gordon assisted Jones during both the boys and girls seasons over the past six years and knows that replacing him won’t be easy.
“It’s not going to be easy to fill his shoes,” Gordon admitted. “He’s been one of my main mentors in my life, and not just as a coach. He taught me a lot. He’s helped me grow and a coach and I think he’s prepared me well.
“With the feeder sytem (which Gordon helped create four years ago) we’re starting to get younger kids exposed to the sport and they’re starting to build their skills when they’re younger. It’s really grown, and this is the first year we’ll see the kids coming into ETHS who I worked with as 11 and 12-year-olds. It will be exciting to see how much they’ve improved.”
Among Gordon’s innovations are a new practice plan to split up the freshmen, junior varsity and varsity squads. “On Tuesdays, Wednesday and Thursdays we plan to split practice up so the freshmen are in study hall while the JV and varsity are practicing, and then the freshmen will come in to practice about 5:15 or so,” said Gordon. “Freshman year is hard for everyone and this will help teach them some time management skills.”
Erwin is returning to coaching after a long absence where he devoted most of his time to business pursuits. He was the boys head gym coach at Naperville Central from 1977 to 1983 and produced 10 high school All-American gymnasts there while winning two sectional championships. He also has extensive experience as a gymnastics judge, and competed for four years at Hinsdale Central in a stretch where that school won three straight state titles.
“Basically, I just wanted to get back in the gym and help kids,” Erwin said. “I think I’ve done a lot for kids that is meaningful and I want to give back to the sport. You can actually affect people’s lives when you coach, and that’s what I want to do. I think there’s a real need for quality coaches in the sport, and I’m really excited about coming back.
“Things are a bit different since I coached last, but I see no reason why we can’t be a competitive program. And if you’re a freshman, I want you out for gymnastics. You might be surprised how good you are. You don’t need to have any experience and my No. 1 priority is to get as many kids out as I can. This sport has so much to offer — and it’s fun!”
Porter will replace Adam Hughes at the helm of the boys lacrosse program. He served as an assistant coach the past three seasons at Loyola Academy, and the New York native played Division I lacrosse at Hobart College in his home state and competed professionally for two years.
He currently runs his own lacrosse club and called Evanston “the job I’ve been waiting for.”
“I had a couple of other chances to be a head coach, but I’ve been waiting for the Evanston job to open up,” Porter said. “I’ve coached several kids who played at Evanston when they were younger, and Evanston kids are tough and blue collarish, with a great work ethic. It’s always easier to coach athletes who WANT to learn. I try to bring the best out of them as a coach.
“Evanston has a lot of diversity, just like where I grew up, and it just feels like home to me. I plan on making an impact and being here a long time. I want to get people as excited about Evanston lacrosse as they are about Evanston basketball or Evanston football or Evanston wrestling.
“I’ll be pretty disappointed for us not to be an Elite Eight or Final Four type of program. I want to set the bar higher.”