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Gaumer children follow in parents’ athletic footsteps

Parental guidance

The Gaumer family has established a legacy at Sterling High School, both between the lines and on the sideline. Max (far let) and his wife Pat (second from left) provided the physical gifts and the parental guidance needed for their four children to succeed.
The Gaumer family has established a legacy at Sterling High School, both between the lines and on the sideline. Max (far let) and his wife Pat (second from left) provided the physical gifts and the parental guidance needed for their four children to succeed.

There's really little mystery why Max and Pat Gaumer's four children were each outstanding athletes at Sterling High School.

They all had the benefit of swimming in an outstanding gene pool.

Max, SHS class of 1972, was a football, track and baseball standout for the Golden Warriors, and also a 2-year starter for the basketball team. He then was a solid track performer at Augustana College, played one season of football for the Vikings and was a member of a 1976 CCIW title-winning squad.

"I never knew what a good athlete my dad was," said Tori Ladner, the third of Max and Pat's children. "He always just kind of pooh-poohed it, saying he was lucky to be on good teams and have good teammates, stuff like that, but he really did some great things."

Pat, a classmate of Max's at Sterling, didn't have the opportunities afforded her husband or children as there were no official high school girls sports offered at that time in Illinois. She showed what she was capable of, however, by long jumping 18 feet 2 inches as an eighth grader.

That distance is just shy of the SHS school record of 18-8 1/2, set by Lorraine Lyon in 1983. It had Pat dreaming of competing in the 1972 Summer Olympic Games in Munich, West Germany. She even made a $10 bet with her brother that she would accomplish that some day.

"I didn't quite make that," she said with a laugh, "but when you're in junior high, you can dream about those sorts of things."

Her own personal glory aside, Pat set about making the Gaumer athletic machine run as smoothly as possible. She made sure her children (and her husband of 36 years) were on time for practices and games, did the laundry, got everyone fed, attended hundreds if not thousands of games, just to mention just a few of the tasks she accomplished – and loved every minute of it.

"Looking back, you wonder how everything got done," she said, "but that's just what we did."

Max readily credits his wife for the athletic prowess of their children.

"We were blessed to have four children who did things the right way when it came to athletics, and they all worked hard," he said, "but there's no doubt where their talent came from. My wife had the wheels, and she had pretty good hops. They didn't get any of that from me."

Max mentioned just a few of his athletic feats in high school. The first one involved football, as he was part of a group that he felt helped put the Golden Warriors on the map.

"Jim Scott came there to coach when I was a sophomore, we all bought into what he was selling," Max said, "and that's a time when football really took off in Sterling. That has carried on to this day. Football really means something to people there."

He also spoke about his time as a track athlete. At one time, he held the school discus record of 169-10, but was merely a cog in the machine.

"I was one of three 160-foot throwers on the team," said Gaumer, noting that J.C. Johnson and Mike Dawson also reached that distance. "I had the school record, and I'd go 5 weeks without winning a meet. The toughest competition I had was within our own team."

Gaumer was a teacher and coach for 36 years, and came to Sterling from Princeton in 1989. As head football coach from 1985-88, he built the Tigers into a power. His last team went 8-2 and lost in the first round of the playoffs to Alleman, but 16 starters were coming back.

Then Gaumer lost his teaching job in Princeton, resulting in a move back to Sterling.

"It was extremely tough to leave those kids behind," Gaumer said, "because they did everything you could ask for as a coach. When I got RIFd (reduction in force), I didn't really have a choice, and I was lucky to have the chance to come to Sterling. The facilities were great, I was working with a lot of coaches who had coached me in high school – it just worked out great for me."

Gaumer is still coaching, and it's a labor of love. His son-in-law, Bobby Ladner, is the head coach at Anderson (Ind.) University, and Max serves as the quarterbacks coach. The Ravens went 0-10 in 2012, but that mattered little.

"He absolutely loves it," said Tyler Gaumer. "I don't think I've ever seen him happier in coaching."

A common thread among the Gaumer children wasn't necessarily how far they jumped, how fast they ran or how many points they scored. It was a sense of family.

When asked about her favorite athletic feat in high school, Tori spoke about being a football cheerleader, with her dad coaching the varsity, her brother Tyler at quarterback and her mom and siblings in the stands.

"That was the neatest thing," Tori said. "Dad was the coach and Tyler was the quarterback, but I still picture Timmy as the ball boy, and Tricia used to help me put signs on the lockers. It was just an amazing time in our lives."

Tricia, when asked about her favorite high school sports memory, recalled a fresh-soph conference track meet because it was the first time Tyler had been able to attend one of her meets.

"I was the running the 300 hurdles," she said, "and I was definitely on my way to an all-time PR, then I hit the last hurdle and fell down. Having Tyler there to support me, especially because I'm sure he'd been through all that, meant so much to me. I kind of tear up just thinking about it."

Each of the Gaumer children left their athletic marks wherever their paths took them.

Tori is still the Sterling record holder in the pole vault (11-3) and triple jump (36-2), and she finished second and seventh, respectively, in those events at the IHSA state meet as a senior. She was the first Sterling girls trackster to medal in two events since 1990.

Tori went on to Illinois State, where she set a school record (since broken) in the pole vault at 12-0, and she finished second in the Missouri Valley Conference heptathlon. She was an all-conference performer six times.

Tricia was at her best in two state track meet performances. She cleared 10-6 as a junior to make the finals, then went 11-0 as a senior to again qualify for the finals. Both were personal bests at the time, and she placed ninth as a senior.

At Eastern Illinois University, she upped her top vault to 12-3 1/2, in 2007.

Timmy was the track team MVP as a senior and a 2-year starter in football, but his highlight was in basketball, and it technically wasn't even his.

"We advanced to the Elite Eight when I was a senior," he said, "but the game that sticks out most to me was against Ottawa. We needed to win that to be conference champions, and Devin Johnson threw in a shot from half-court to win. That was unbelievable, and I really think that set us up for what happened in the playoffs."

Another common thread among the Gaumer children is the ability to succeed off the court. Each received multiple academic honors, both in high school and in college.

Tyler is further putting his stamp on Sterling athletics by maintaining a strong girls track program. Tori implemented sports programs for needy children while on a 2-year mission in Costa Rica. Tricia was a state champion in group interpretation in high school, and plans to be a nurse, like her mother was. Timmy is on track to become an Air Force pilot.

"Athletics are wonderful," Pat Gaumer said, "but we always wanted our children to be well-rounded individuals. That's why we encouraged them to be in plays, to join clubs, to be involved in the arts. We are just so pleased with everything they've done and are doing today."

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