One of the greatest pressures on high school students these days is the pressure to be fashionable. Wanting to be cool is a very compelling motive for teens, and that phenomenon extends to the football field, where even style is competitive. At schools around here, the place where style and sports meet is the football helmet.
One Downers Grove North
football player, Cole, was recently trying to decide whether to use his hard-earned money to purchase a new helmet. He knew that a new helmet would be well-received by his teammates. Although the concussion issue played some role (so many parents have been on high alert lately that any new product claiming to lower the risk of serious head injury might be a good investment), he knew that he probably didn’t need one; he just wanted one.
Cole was still feeling a little conflicted about the decision when his mom heard a helmet was going to be delivered to their house. But this helmet wasn’t like the one Cole had been considering. It wasn’t a particularly popular helmet; in fact, it was a bit of a relic. It wasn’t a new, fashionable one that would catapult him into the in-crowd … but it was special. Indeed, this particular helmet held special significance even for me.
After graduating college, I arrived in Chicago for my first job: coaching football and track and field at Hinsdale Central High School. In my mind, it was sort of a stepping stone in finding my way to play three more seasons of my chosen sport.
In those days, the head coach and athletic director at Hinsdale Central
was Gene Strode. Coach Strode put me in with the sophomores and under the wing of a big man: Bill Huskisson. Bill and I became fast buddies, finding time between practices to work out and push the limits of the weights that the gym had accumulated. Because I was the new man on campus, Bill (or “Husk,” as we called him) had to show me how it was done. Of course, he knew how it was done; in his day, Husk was a two-time All-Conference at Hinsdale Central. He was an All-American at Western Illinois
, he had earned a place in the Athletics Hall of Fame and he had several touches as a pro.
In the gym that year, Husk and I spent hours upon hours training together. But what I eventually found out is that we weren’t just gym partners. He was actually coaching me … both as an athlete and as a man.
Husk was a champion for people. Many knew him for his passion for the underdogs and the children who required a little more help. He wasn’t flashy, and he didn’t buy into trying to be popular (although thanks to his kind demeanor, he certainly was). He was a gentle giant with a big heart.
Bill and I became exceedingly close; probably closer than people usually get. Toward the end of his life, Bill and two other of my close friends formed a tight cord. It was a bond of Christian fellowship that turned into a lifeline for all of us.
Bill fought cancer for several years until his death in 2006. But to this day, when I think of football, I always think about my friend Husk.
As for the helmet delivered to Cole’s house: that helmet sat on the desk of a coach of the Chicago Fire football team for years. It was a fixture in his family’s home until someone noticed a piece of tape on the inside with a name on it. The name: “Bill Huskisson.”
Bill’s twins, Cole and Brock, have always wanted their father to speak to them after his death. This time, Cole heard his dad’s voice loud and clear. The money Cole had saved would not go to a fashionable new helmet. He decided that the one that his school team had provided would be fine, because he knew that’s what his dad would have done.
There are a lot of big men in football. But Husk wasn’t just a big man … he was a legend.
“It’s a great day to be a Red Devil!”
Mike is a Clarendon Hills
resident; husband; Indian Princes; Indian Guide Dad; a Coach; an “old” football player and a real estate broker. Mike’s columns are usually crafted about the buzz in and around Clarendon Hills. It sometimes has a spin on real estate or cultural information, highlight a new business or announce school happenings. He might include a “get-to-know” about some of our interesting Clarendon Hills residents and even a little about Clarendon Hills history
. Whatever it is, it is sure to be about the “Talk of the Town”.
Mike Stevens, Bill Huskisson, Mike McCurry