PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD/WYZZ) — Mickey Schallau admits she never expected to be a coach for 50 years.
But she says she’s not the kind of person who would “sit around and watch TV” so ten years after she retired from teaching, she’s embarking on her 50th season as a head coach.
The longtime Peoria Notre Dame coach started the girls volleyball, basketball and softball programs at the Academy of Our Lady Spalding in 1973, the same year Title IX was enacted. A year later she dropped the volleyball coaching responsibilities and took on golf.
“I just jokingly went to the principal when the golf job opened and said, ‘I play golf.’ Not thinking anything of it,” Schallua said. “When I came back in the fall, there was a box at my desk with all golf stuff. So I guess I got the job.”
And she’s never left.
She was the first woman to coach a boys varsity sport in the Midstate 9 Conference back in 1974. Now she coaches some of the children of former players.
“That’s why I play this sport. Getting to see Coach Schallau and knowing that my dad played for her and my uncle played for her,” said junior Marin Ruskusky. “So I guess I get to carry on the legacy. It’s pretty cool.”
Schallau says many of the girls she first coached were more interested in powder puff football than in helping start athletic programs. But Title IX eventually opened doors for girls to play sports on the high school level.
Now she looks back and sees the impact sports has on the lives of young females.
“They have an opportunity to play a variety of sports, get scholarships, maybe get a free college education,” said Schallau, who was a standout softball player with the Pekin Lettes in the 1970’s. “In my case, I played softball and got a job.”
The 50-year milestone is being celebrated by her current Irish team.
I think it’s important because it shows us we can be in this sport for that long too,” said junior Ella Coulter. “And we can be in a place that we feel really good about for that long.”