Naperville Central's effort a real gift for Ronald McDonald House
The numbers are in, and they're good.
According to Naperville Central teacher and coach Barry Baldwin, the final tally for the JKB Justin Wegner Gift Card Drive for the Ronald McDonald House was $10,253.44 worth of gift cards. The drive lasted from Dec. 1- Jan. 31.
As noted in Sidelines on Jan. 9, the drive initially was a joint effort between Baldwin and Wegner, the 2015 Naperville Central graduate who passed away in July 2019 from soft tissue sarcoma.
While undergoing treatments at Lurie's Children's Hospital of Chicago, Wegner asked Baldwin to start a fundraiser for Ronald McDonald House, where his parents were staying to be near their son. Many families in the Wegners' situation are temporarily uprooted from their homes and normal way of life, and Ronald McDonald House's stock of gift cards for an array of goods and services comes in handy.
Collecting them was a perfect charity effort.
"Maybe we'd raise a couple hundred bucks," Baldwin said in January. He obviously was way off.
This year's drive netted the second-largest haul of its four years, following nearly $12,000 raised in the first year.
All told some $37,000 in gift cards has been raised by Baldwin and students out of Naperville Central's J. Kyle Braid Leadership Foundation program, of which Baldwin was a board member and school sponsor.
"It was just wonderful," Baldwin said of this year's donations. "It really is the power of social media."
Receiving an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 gift cards, people forwarded the information to friends nationwide. Baldwin received cards mailed from New Hampshire, Washington, Colorado, Nevada.
A woman from Tennessee sent four gift cards that "I think totaled $4," Baldwin said.
"That was great. Every little bit helps," he said.
On Tuesday, Ed and Cathy Wegner and their son, Jason, presented the cards to Ronald McDonald House Chief Executive Officer Holly Buckendahl at Lurie Children's Hospital.
Baldwin, a teacher in Naperville Central's communications arts department, the boys golf coach and Ed Watson's longtime top girls soccer assistant, plans on maintaining the gift card drive as long as he's there.
"I have to believe that this will be one of (Justin's) legacies at Naperville Central," Baldwin said in January. "This will stand the test of time."
Chris Andriano brought up a great point.
"Sometimes assistant coaches get lost in the shuffle, they get forgotten about," said the retired Montini football coaching legend. "It's a shame, we need to know more about these guys who've dedicated their lives to helping kids."
For years he's tried to get one of them that recognition. Finally, Dominic Riccordino -- "Coach Dom" -- will get his due with his induction into the Illinois High School Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame on March 28 in Champaign.
Currently an offensive line coach at St. Laurence -- Riccordino was former IC Catholic Prep athletic director Adam Nissen's first call when he got the head football job there -- 2020 will be Riccordino's 51st year in coaching counting his first three seasons at St. Mary's Grade School in Woodstock.
"It means a whole lot," Riccordino said of the IHSFCA honor. "I don't think I ever interviewed for any job. I usually get recognized by the head coaches who know what the heck they're doing."
In 2004 Riccordino's official title with Montini was running backs and defensive backs coach. But according to current Broncos coach and longtime defensive coordinator Mike Bukovsky, Riccordino's installation of his baby -- the split-back veer -- made him "in essence" the offensive coordinator.
"That was kind of the final piece to the puzzle," Bukovsky said of that offense, which helped Montini win its first football state championship.
A 1965 St. Rita graduate, Riccordino did the same thing for Immaculate Conception in 2008 when the Knights won their second title. He also helped Mt. Carmel to a championship, among many stops that included Marian Central, Stagg, Fenwick, St. Patrick and two prior stints at St. Laurence. In two years as a head coach, Riccordino led Decatur St. Teresa to a 12-6 record.
Andriano and Bukovsky both praised Riccordino's unique ability to not only know football but to reach high school athletes.
"The kid who failed a test, whose girlfriend broke up with him, whose dog died and whose mom is mad at him, and now he's got to come out to practice -- Dom knew how to motivate those kids," Bukovsky said.