Despite what the name could suggest, when the “One to Remember” section was added to the IHSAState
page, it was not meant to be an “in memoriam” category highlighting the greats who had come and gone. The thought was to look back at memorable accomplishments with the students and coaches who lived them and hear their reflections on those moments. Sadly, the first entry in the coaching category will be the former as opposed to the latter, as legendary Mater Dei girl’s volleyball coach Fred Rakers succumbed to cancer on November 6.
Fred retired following the 2010 season with 1,046 career wins, with the final victory coming in the 2010 IHSA Class 3A Girls Volleyball State Championship match. The state title was the sixth of his 35-year career at Mater Dei, where he led the school to 20 state tournament berths. Fred stayed on as the junior varsity head coach in 2011 and was a part of the varsity coaching staff, as his son Chad took the program reins and led the team to another state crown in 2011.
My first-ever meeting with Fred Rakers came after his squad lost in the semifinals of the 2009 state tournament. It was my first state tournament handling media relations since having been hired by the IHSA a few months prior and I was nervous to say the least, especially dealing with a legendary coach who was coming off a tough loss. Despite practicing the school name several times prior to the presser, as I introduced Mater Dei and Coach Rakers for the postgame press conference, what came out of my mouth was some sort of cross between the name of the tow truck from the movie Cars
and a restaurant Maître d’. A clearly bothered Fred quickly corrected me on the school name (Mott-er Day) and his own name (Rockers…I now meet with all the coaches on Thursday to confirm pronunciations) and I sat by mortified as the press asked questions for what seemed like an eternity. When the press conference finally ended, I rushed to Fred ready to apologize profusely, but he abruptly cut me off with a smile. He assured me it was no big deal, made some small talk asking how I was enjoying the job and where I hailed from originally (gulp, I am an alum of the school he had just lost to, which he also enjoyed). He thanked me for the opportunity to bring his entire team to the press conference (something he did after every state tourney match, win or lose) and gave me an atta-boy pat on the back as he exited.
I spent roughly 12 days around or working with Fred over the course of those state tournaments, so I did not know him intimately as so many others do. What I will say from my brief time around him is that I think that first press conference gave me a three-step taste of what it is like to play for him.
1) Perfection is expected.
2) He will let you know when you fail to meet that expectation.
3) Ultimately, no matter the result, he is going to leave you with a smile and give you a pat on the back.
-Matt Troha, IHSA Assistant Executive Director
Below is a clip of Fred’s press conference following his final match as Mater Dei’s head coach, a state championship win. Fred calls his then assistant coach, son Chad, to join him at the table during the press conference, a symbolic gesture that he was passing the torch. There is also a GIF of photos captured by Visual Image Photography
of Fred's reaction to the winning point in that title match and his embrace with his son Chad.
To share thoughts or memories of Fred, individuals are encouraged to visit the Fighting For Fred Facebook page that was established by his family: Fighting For Fred