TOLONO — Unity High School’s next girls’ basketball head coach was on staff at a school that won a state championship in March.
Former St. Thomas More assistant Braden Heil was approved as the Rockets’ head coach at a Wednesday night school board meeting.
“It’s definitely a happy time for me,” said Heil, 26.
The recent upheaval within the STM program had no bearing on Heil’s decision to leave the Sabers after three years as an assistant.
“I was interested in taking the next step in my career,” he said. “This was something local and was hard to pass up. I’ve always admired the athletes at Unity for their great work ethic.”
Unity athletic director Scott Hamilton said there were “eight to 10” applicants for the vacancy and that four people were interviewed. Heil replaces Kelly Gallick, who resigned from the high school program but will enter her third year next season working with Unity’s middle school program.
“When you hire a coach, it’s important to hire someone who has been in a winning program,” Hamilton said. “He knows what it takes to win.”
Heil comes with a strong recommendation.
“I couldn’t be happier for Braden and the Unity athletic department,” former STM head coach Chris Mennig said. “He is a fine young man that has evolved into a passionate basketball mind. He is a ‘player’s coach’ that has put the time in and has done everything to prepare himself for this next step in his career.
“I have no doubt that the future is bright for the Rockets. He will have my support.”
While earning his bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois, Heil was a student-manager for the women’s team under coaches Theresa Grentz and Jolette Law.
Heil is a Kankakee native who had a one-year stint as a boys’ assistant at Bradley-Bourbonnais followed by a year as the women’s assistant at St. Ambrose, where he earned his master’s degree in 2011.
Though Mennig is his former boss at STM — and his current boss at Blue Star, where he is an associate event coordinator — Heil doesn’t expect to contact him about joining the Unity staff as a paid assistant.
“I want to prove to myself that I’m ready to take what I’ve learned and apply it,” Heil said.
Unity and St. Thomas More will both be members of the revamped Okaw Valley Conference next school year. The schools will play a home-and-home sequence in basketball.
“I’ll see them (the Sabers) from a different sideline,” Heil said, “but I’m looking forward to leading a new group of young women.”