Julie Schroeder was in her element late Monday afternoon.
She was in Musgrove Fieldhouse, and the sound of bouncing basketballs reverberated throughout the Sterling High School facility. There were some boys at a side basket hoisting up jumpers, while girls of various ages were spread throughout the rest of the gym, warming up for a 5 p.m. practice.
Schroeder will coach the Gazette squad for the Sauk Valley Media All-Star Game, slated for Thursday in Musgrove. To help her team of recent high school graduates, she sent out a mass text to former Sterling players she had in her cell phone, willing to come in and scrimmage the youngsters.
Nights like these, however, will be few and far between for Schroeder, who has coached hoops in one form or another for the past 20 seasons. After the 2013-14 campaign, Schroeder announced she was stepping down from the varsity coaching position she held for the past seven seasons.
The all-star game coaching gig will be her last, for the foreseeable future.
"When I coached my last home game here, I didn't necessarily know it would be my last game by any means," Schroeder said. "It will be fun to be in the fieldhouse with such a great atmosphere. It will be fun to coach three Sterling kids [Kiarra Harris, Kaitlyn Bauer and Kayleen Terrock] once again, and a lot of other fun kids that I was able to keep track of through the paper, whether it be basketball or softball seasons. I'm excited about it."
Fans looking for anything too tricky, like they might see in a Sterling vs. Ottawa game for a conference championship, will be disappointed. Schroeder has installed just two offensive plays – one to use against a man-to-man defense and one to handle a zone – and like many all-star games, defense will be put on the back burner.
"There's not a lot of coaching that goes on," Schroeder said. "These kids have been coached their whole lives by really great coaches, and they'll just step out on the floor to have some fun one more time."
Schroeder is keeping her teaching job at Sterling, and hasn't ruled out the possibility of coaching again at some point. Until a few days ago, she was busy as an assistant coach for the Sterling softball team that finished third at state.
Her days as a varsity girls basketball coach at Sterling, however, are done.
"I'm going to miss the kids," Schroeder said. "That's the reason most coaches coach. It's not about honors you get or anything like that. It's about relationships that you build with kids, getting them to work hard, and then watching them be successful because of that. I'm definitely going to miss that a lot."
Schroeder admitted the next few weeks will be difficult for her, as that's when her summer hoops program kicked into high gear. Instead, she'll fill her hours on her Wave Runner, tooling up and down the Rock River, once it gets fixed this week. At night, she hopes to occasionally watch some basketball at Westwood – just to stay in touch with what's up on the local scene.
"It's definitely going to be weird this summer, without all the basketball," Schroeder said.
With repairs being done at Sauk Valley Community College this summer, the site of the SVM All-Star Classic was switched to Musgrove Fieldhouse. It is the first time in the 30-year history of the game that it will be played at Sterling High's gym. Terrock, who will play basketball at SVCC next season, is glad to play one last game at her alma mater.
"The senior night was really upsetting because we knew that was going to be the last game we were going to play on this floor," Terrock said. "Now we're playing on it again, and it's going to bring back some nice memories."
High school: Prophetstown, class of 1989
College: Monmouth, class of 1993
FYI: P.E. teacher at Sterling. ... Varsity girls basketball coach from 2007-14, with a 142-82 record in seven seasons. ... Won three conference and two regional titles with Golden Warriors