State Stories

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Legendary Soccer Coach Brian Papa Surprised With Trip To ESPY Awards

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For the past 38 years, legendary coach Brian Papa has helped thousands of student-athletes in the classroom, on the soccer field and also performed extensive charity work off the field. He retired from teaching at Lincoln-Way East High School on June 30.

Papa was honored for Making A Difference On AND Off The Field with a surprise trip to the ESPY Awards on Wednesday night at the Microsoft Theatre in Los Angeles.

He learned of the trip via an email from Providence Catholic alum and current U.S. Men's National Team goalie Brad Guzan that read:

Coach Papa, although I never played for you, it just seems right to call you coach. Just want to say congratulations on an unbelievable career and all of the accomplishments throughout the years! Your teams were always competitors and knew what it took to win. Enjoy the ESPYs and more importantly enjoy retirement! Southwest suburban soccer is in a better place for having you involved!

Cheers,
 Brad Guzan


Papa received another surprise when he shared cab in Los Angeles with WWE executive Mack Bridenbaker, who after hearing Papa’s story, provided he and his 12-year-old daughter Natalie with ESPY red carpet passes.

Their unforgettable day included meeting WWE star Ric Flair, NBA Hall of Famer Julius Erving and former Olympian turned WWE star Mark Henry among others.

Earlier this spring, Papa won his 800th career game, which made him just the third high school soccer coach in U.S. history to record 800 career victories. During his career, he held high school coaching and teaching positions at: Rich Central (1978-80), Bloom (1980-83), Sandburg (1983-1994) and Lincoln-Way East (1994-2016). In 1993, he led Sandburg to a perfect 29-0 season and the IHSA Class AA state championship.

The entire experience was a part of the Making A Difference On AND Off The Field campaign, presented by Buddy’s HELPERS and the PepsiCo Showdown.

Papa talked about the experience on WGN Chicago: