A question-and-answer session with the state's boys and girls gymnastics coaches

GETTING TO KNOW: Chad Downie, Wheaton Warrenville co-op boys head coach

By Mike Considine

SGS co-publisher

 SGS: What was the importance of your first state team, in terms of the success that followed?

Downie: I think the first breakthrough team we had was the first freshman class that came up over the course of the four years I was a head coach. That group were seniors in 2002. I took over the Wheaton program in 1998. That group of seniors were a great bunch of guys ... Rob Miller, Bobby Kaye, Dan Murphy and Brad Schrage were or are such great guys. I am still good friends with them and have gone to their weddings. They remain an important touchstone for me as a coach.

SGS: In high school, would you have identified yourself primarily as a wrestler or a gymnast?

Downie: I was a wrestler in high school and college. I did gymnastics because it was fun, I could get strong and it was a new challenge to me.

SGS: What were your accomplishments as a wrestler at Wheaton College? What did you gain from that experience?

Downie: I had some nice accomplishments during my time at Wheaton College. I qualified to the national tournament every year I wrestled and was a CCIW champion a few times. I was Most Outstanding Wrestler in many tournaments. I am most proud of the fact that I was a captain of the team for three years.

SGS: How did you end up coaching gymnastics rather than wrestling? What intrigues you about coaching the sport?

Downie: I coached gymnastics all through college. I found I had a gift for seeing body mechanics and errors in body mechanics that other people didn't see. I also really loved the developmental aspect of technique. Now the best thing about coaching is the relationships I have with my gymnasts and the friendships that grow once they graduate.

SGS: I remember telling you, and surprising you with the fact, that Wheaton North was ranked 13th in the state early in your first season as coach (and my first season with what would morph into SGS). What made that group of kids successful?

Downie: Actually, I don't remember much of my first two years. Matt Speedy was a huge point-getter for us at the time.

SGS: Did you and your coaching staff set out to establish Wheaton Warrenville co-op as a state power? You've mentioned that Steve Kafka's program at Glenbard West and Neil Krupicka's program at Hinsdale Central were models to a degree. What impressed you about those programs?

Downie: Yes. Definitely I wanted to model our program after the best programs in the state.  What impressed me with Glenbard West was the patience Steve Kafka had with his gymnasts.  He really was able to peak at the right time every year. Also, his gymnasts were always extremely clean. With Hinsdale there was this intimidation factor and presence that they had which I wanted to emulate. I want teams to be intimidated because we are in a meet. Maybe that is a bit of the wrestler in me. It seemed like both of those teams were in the state meet every year. That is what I want. I want to be competitive every year.

SGS: What makes you and Greg Gebhardt a good coaching tandem?

Downie: We both have a tremendous amount of respect for one another. We question each other throughout the season ... 'Are you doing this right? Am I doing that right?' We both want the best out of our kids and the best out of each other. We also have different coaching styles, which balance things out. I tend to be a risk taker and he is more conservative.

SGS: Your 2005 championship team certainly belongs in the conversation of being one of the best teams in state history. It was a senior dominated group led by Kyle Padera. Your current team also has a strong contingent of seniors. What is your philosophy of team building and how do seniors fit into it?

Downie: The most important thing I can do as a coach is to provide learning opportunities through out a gymnasts four years for them to become a man of integrity. Most all of the seniors that make it through our program are great guys; they are men of integrity. The shaping and work these guys go through is what creates the shared experience of community.

SGS: A few years ago, you stepped in to coach Wheaton North's girls team for a brief time. It now appears that will forever be the most successful period in the program's history (the only Wheaton North team to break 140). What were the positives that came out of coaching the girls team? Did it make you a better coach?

Downie: The girls program was floundering here at WNHS. My A.D., Matt Fisher, asked me to take the program over to revitalize it in two years.  My goal was to increase (participation) and make it a competitive team. I feel like I did that. I left the team off in much better shape than it had ever been before. I learned that if you hold up a high bar, kids will try their hardest to accomplish it if they respect and trust you.

SGS: What do you hope to accomplish with the Wheaton Warrenville co-op boys team going forward?

Downie: I want to continue to be part the growing-up process with kids. Helping to make young boys into young men of integrity. It would be great to collect some state championships and trophies along the way.