Sandburg pays tribute to Olympian
By Ginger Brashinger Correspondent February 12, 2014 9:16PM
Staff members from Sandburg High School pose on Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014, in support of Kendall Coyne, a Sandburg alum and a member of the 2014 U.S. Olympic Women's Ice Hockey team. The photo will be posted to Coyne's Facebook page. | Ginger Brashinger~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 13, 2014 2:20AM
While Olympian Kendall Coyne and her 2014 U.S. Olympic Women’s Hockey teammates were competing against Canada in Sochi Wednesday morning, a fan club from her alma mater, Sandburg High School, was taking a few minutes away from watching the game on their computers to assemble in the gym for a photo.
Carrie Jarosek, a Sandburg social worker, said Sandburg staff members wanted to show their support for Coyne by wearing “Olympic T-shirts” in a photo they will post on Coyne’s Facebook page along with words of support.
“It’s so exciting to see an alumni doing so well,” Jarosek said.
Coyne, 21, remains connected to the guidance department at Sandburg where she was a “guidance runner” for the department during high school. She has kept in touch with the staff since her graduation.
Guidance registrar Barb Conner — who has a wall of pictures of Olympian Coyne — said when (Coyne) is in town, she always stops by.”
Coyne’s most recent visits were last summer when, as a finalist for the Olympic team, Coyne was working out in Sandburg’s weight room.
“She brought in her gold medal from the (Women’s) Nationals,” Conner said. “She’s a really nice girl.”
Conner said she has been following Coyne on Facebook and sending her messages regularly.
“She’s actually answering me, too, as busy as she is,” Conner said.
Coyne’s teachers agreed that her many athletic accomplishments have not gone to Coyne’s head. She’s still the girl they knew in high school.
Coyne’s business education teacher, Carey Vandenberg, said Kendall was a “kind of quiet, shy determined girl.”
“She knew that her downfall was her size, but she took that disadvantage and worked really hard to gain speed and that’s what she’s known for right now,” Vandenberg said. “But, she was always very determined.”
Vandenberg said she thinks Coyne’s disappointment in not making the 2010 Olympics team inspired her to work even harder to make this year’s team.
Sandburg psychology teacher Joe Geiger remembers Coyne as “a quiet person, humble” who was disciplined even when athletics weren’t involved. Geiger said Coyne missed about three weeks of his psychology class in her senior year when she went to Canada for the Women’s World Championships, but she didn’t miss a beat with her homework.
“She was also determined and worked hard,” Geiger said. “She said she would do her homework (online) and make up her tests when she returned. Basically, she never lost…any information we did in class. She did her homework, yes.”
Theresa Zambuto, varsity women’s softball coach, knew Coyne as a high school athlete who made the varsity girls’ softball team in her sophomore year.
“Kendall’s one of the most dedicated, determined, passionate athletes I’ve ever come across in my time at Sandburg,” Zambuto said.
Zambuto said Coyne’s “blazing speed” sometimes cost her on the field when competing teams’ coaches and umpires thought Coyne was “leaving the bases early.”
“She was that fast,” Zambuto said.
Zambuto said Coyne never showed poor sportsmanship.
“She accepted it and moved on (with) kind of the attitude, ‘I’ll get you next time,’” Zambuto said.
And, for Coyne, there would always be a “next time.”
“Her ability to react at that time was above and beyond other athletes at that age,” Zambuto said.
Linda Zemke, an Orland Park resident and dean’s aide at Sandburg, said Coyne was a challenge to athletes of both sexes long before her high school days. Zemke said Coyne played on the Orland Youth Association baseball teams with girls and boys.
“The boys were all so intimidated by her,” Zemke said. “She was so fast, but until you saw that little braided ponytail, you didn’t realize she was a girl. She was just as good as the boys, if not better.”