When Mike McDermott decided to end the longest tenure in program history as head boys volleyball coach, he was happy to see that the Evanston athletic department didn’t have to look far to find a potential replacement.

One of the best players ever to suit up at ETHS was just a few chairs down the bench — assistant coach Stanley Antoine.

The Wildkits will rely on Antoine to provide energy and passion for the program now as he and McDermott, who will remain as an assistant in both the boys and girls programs, will switch roles.

Evanston Athletic Director Chris Livatino announced the hiring of Antoine to the head position after he spent two years assisting McDermott. Antoine was a three-year regular for the volleyball team, started as a quarterback and cornerback for the ETHS football team, and earned the Leo Samuelson Award as the school’s top athlete in 2003, his senior year.

He also played at Cardinal Stritch University in Milwaukee (Wis.), was an assistant coach in the Evanston girls program for 1 year, and led at a charter school in the city of Chicago to an Illinois High School Association regional tournament championship. He’s currently a teacher at Chute Middle School.

“Stanley Antoine was not only an extremely good volleyball player at ETHS, he was also the best male athlete in the school his senior year,” said Livatino, who coached Antoine during his prep career. “Much more important, Stanley is a great human being who will help mentor the young men in our program to be successful on the court and in life.”

“When Stanley was first hired, he and I talked about him taking the head coaching job some day,” McDermott noted. “First he wanted to get the feel  for the kids, the school and the program. We had a weird off-season (due to the coronavirus pandemic, which also wiped out the 2020 season) and we didn’t have a lot of off-season contact with the kids. But Stanley ran a lot of Zoom meetings with them, and he has a lot of great ideas and great energy.

“I’ve had my time and I thought he should be the one in charge. I think this is a good time to make the transition.”

Antoine will take over a program that has struggled in recent years. The Wildkits are coming off back-to-back 12-26 seasons in 2018 and 2019, but did string together 3 straight solid seasons prior to that rough stretch, including a 26-12 mark and an Illinois High School Association regional tournament championship in 2016.

“Our record isn’t something to be super proud of,” said McDermott, “but I do feel like we made some progress when it comes to changing the ‘look’ of the program and instilling equity. I think we’ve created a volleyball community, and now we need to create a championship culture within that community.

“We don’t talk about it as such, but volleyball really is one of those country club sports with not as many kids of color as some of the other sports. That certainly has to do with off-season training (participation on expensive club teams). Most volleyball players have well-to-do parents who are able to pay to play. Others don’t have that choice.”

Antoine knows that’s an obstacle he’ll have to overcome, especially as a person of color himself.

“I played club when I was in high school, but the expense was always a conversation at our house,” he recalled. “Now it’s so expensive I don’t think we’d have even had that conversation. I wouldn’t have had that choice. I wouldn’t have been comfortable even asking my family about it.

“Our goal is to make sure we provide access to as many kids as possible. We’re committed to providing that access and great individual instruction, and we want to create off-season opportunities that will help them grow, too. We want to create an infrastructure to give good instruction and a place for them to play.”

Antoine believes that building a “bridge” for potential grade school and middle school athletes — following the example of the soccer and basketball programs at ETHS — will help his sport flourish, too.

To that end, he established a middle school tournament (“Battle of the Block”) 2 years ago, with players from Haven, Chute, St. Athanasius and St. Joan of Arc participating in the inaugural event. The pandemic prevented the teams from playing last spring, but Antoine says the interest is there.

“We want to continue to build the momentum from that, and remind them that this (playing in high school) can be your future,” said the new head coach. “I think there’s a lot of excitement among the young kids. They’re really positive about the sport, and we as coaches are motivated by their energy.

“I don’t want it to be just a focus on a winning program. We want to give back to the community and make it a winning culture.”