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EIU 360

Still Racking Up The Assists

Injuries derailed a pro soccer career for Mick Galeski, but one of EIU's all-time assists leaders still has others' goals on his mind -- those of the students and athletes he mentors.

Editor's Notes: This story originally appeared in the Winter 2015 issue of ForeverEIU, a publication of the Eastern Illinois University Alumni Association.

Just prior to publication, Mick was selected as the National Soccer Coaches Association of America's (NSCAA) 2015 Assistant Coach of the Year for Junior Colleges.

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It’s a Tuesday afternoon in Champaign, Ill., and Edison Middle School is teeming with activity. It’s the variety of borderline chaos found in pretty much any school building once the dismissal bell sounds – the collective energy of a few hundred kids whose enthusiasm to escape the classroom won’t be dampened by a chilly, late-October drizzle waiting outside.

But amidst the pandemonium, one young man tracks down Mick Galeski, a sixth-year P.E. teacher weaving his way from his final class of the day to the downstairs office he shares with a colleague adjacent to the school’s auxiliary gymnasium.

“Hey, I made the basketball team!” says this beaming eighth-grader as he skids to not-quite-a-stop in Galeski’s path.

“Great! I’m coming to one of your games, okay?” Galeski calls back at the youth, who has already shifted gears and left the teacher in his dust to join classmates in a beeline for the aging building’s exits. Just as quickly, Galeski is also moving again. After all, he’s got a bit of paperwork to take care of before heading off to his other gig as an assistant coach for the playoff-bound Parkland College men’s soccer team.

At face value, it doesn’t strike you as a particularly powerful interaction between teacher and student, but once you get to know what makes Mick Galeski tic as an educator you’ll realize this 10-second conversation may very well have made the Eastern Illinois University alumnus’ entire day.

“I Wanted To Be Like Him”

Long before he was an Edison Comet – and even before he was leaving indelible marks on the EIU men’s soccer program – Galeski was a high school kid in Blackburn, England, facing the challenges most high school kids face at one time or another: Keeping his nose clean.

“I’d sometimes get mixed up in the wrong crowd,” said Galeski, who knew he wanted a future in soccer and had the physical tools to make it happen. “It was just trying to hang out with the cool kids and getting in trouble.”

Luckily for Mick, somebody else had an eye on that future.

“My P.E. teacher in England, Steve Brecken, had a massive, massive influence on me,” said Galeski. “One day he kind of grabbed me by the collar and said ‘Look man, you’ve got a talent. This could take you somewhere. These kids are going nowhere the way they’re going. You’ve got something that can push you.’

“It was kind of an eye-opener. Every day he’d ask me about my games and make me feel like I was important to someone outside my family. That was kind of a light switch to me. I wanted to be like him.”

So when a Champaign middle-schooler takes time to track Galeski down and let him know he made the basketball team, you can see the roles have reversed; Galeski is now playing Mr. Brecken’s role, having shown the student he has a genuine interest in what’s happening with the child’s life.

“We just want to make kids feel special,” Galeski says, gesturing toward fellow P.E. teacher Roderick Hutchison, a fellow EIU alumnus who just happened to be hired at Edison at the exact same time. “If I can make someone else feel the way I felt when my teacher pulled me aside, then I feel like I’ve done my job too.

“I want someone to come back to me in 20 years and say ‘You know what? I did this because you told me I could do this.’ To me, that’s where the satisfaction of this job comes from. It’s not the summers or anything like that. It’s any chance we get to influence (students) and they actually value it.”

Once he got to Eastern – and we’ll get to how that came to pass a bit later – Galeski picked up some more excellent influences in his P.E. classes.

“People like Dr. (Kevin) Hussey and Dr. (Larry) Ankenbrand, they just made it so fun to learn about P.E. and how the body works,” remembers Galeski. “When you sit and talk to them, it’s a different feel. You’re on the same level. They’re not talking at you, they’re talking with you.

“I was an 18- or 19-year-old kid, and the enthusiasm Larry Ankenbrand had blew me out of the water. I wanted to be like him when I was teaching. With Dr. Hussey, his attention to detail is what I loved. That’s what I take into my coaching. Especially when he was teaching badminton … every little technique, he was spot-on with everything.”

“Not One of Them Spoke About His School the Way He Did”

Before he was even aware of EIU’s existence, Galeski knew he wanted to come to the United States and play college soccer. A self-described “big traveler”, he appeared headed to the University of New Mexico … until the Eastern coach at the time, Adam Howarth, intervened.

“(Howarth) flew to England and had dinner with me in Manchester,” remembers Galeski. “His family’s from London, so he drove up and met me halfway. I’d never even heard of Eastern, but I really liked what he had to say about the college. I’d spoken to probably 50 different coaches, and not one of them spoke about his school the way he did.

“He told me all about the education program. He told me about the small tight-knit community, which is something I told him I wanted. He sold it to me. I told him ‘I’ll sign with you right now.’”

It’s difficult to succinctly describe the career Galeski ended up putting together at EIU, but it’s a vast understatement to simply say it was an excellent one. A member of the starting lineup more or less from day one, he was honorable mention All-Missouri Valley Conference by his sophomore year and a first team all-conference player as a junior.

His senior season was another all-conference campaign and saw him earn second team honors on the NSCAA All-Midwest Region list. Galeski was a three-time MVC offensive player of the week, an all-tournament selection in three different meets (including the MVC tournament for the second straight year), and a part of the TopDrawerSoccer.com National Team of the Week for Oct. 8, 2007.

Galeski’s senior year bio on Eastern’s athletics website is 350 words of accomplishment after accomplishment, and the 11-7-1 and 12-6-3 records compiled by EIU during his final two seasons (2006 and 2007) are the only two winning campaigns the program has enjoyed since going 12-6-1 in 2000.

“I talk to alumni about those two years on the team, just the feeling and the connection we have from those two seasons,” reminisces Galeski. “No one expected it. It just kind of came out of nowhere.

“We always had the talent. It was just about the organization and getting everybody pointed in the right direction,” added Galeski, alluding to his coaching future. “That’s what I took on.”

“One of the Biggest Advocates For That School”

After Galeski’s freshman season, he and his teammates watched New Mexico play in the national championship match on television. You might think – after a 5-12-1 season in Charleston – that Galeski might’ve wondered if he made the right call.

“I never once regretted this,” said Galeski. “Not one day in my life. It’s obviously a lot different than what I’m used to, coming from England, but every day I was just excited to be there. I didn’t want to do stupid things; I didn’t want to ruin what I had. Everybody was just so nice.

“I had a great time. I’m probably one of the biggest advocates for that school. I literally had the best college experience possible. I’ve been the best man in two weddings of guys I met there. I lived with a guy up here in Champaign for four years that I met at Eastern.”

And of course, if he hadn’t gone to EIU he would’ve never known “Hutch”, who has now been a colleague for a half-dozen years.

“We were actually in all the P.E. classes together, so we knew each other,” said Galeski of Hutchison. “And my best friend was a good friend of his. It was crazy. I interviewed, got the job. Showed up the first day of work and he was sitting here in this office.”

Hutchison, who by the same coincidental luck managed to observe Galeski teaching kindergarten in the Charleston school district during his year as an EIU grad student, says maybe it’s just destiny for them to keep crossing paths.

“I think maybe we were meant to be work colleagues,” said Hutchison. “We didn’t have to go through that period of getting to know each other; from day one, we’ve been on it. I’ve been trying to sabotage him leaving Edison for the past year or so.”

That’s because Galeski’s wife, Katie, who is due to have the couple’s first child in February, has designs on moving closer to Chicago, and his own soccer coaching aspirations dovetail with that plan.

“She’s got no family down here but tons of family up north, and it’s always kind of been a goal for me to go up there,” said Galeski, whose aim is to continue coaching at the college level.

“Teaching is What I Love, But Soccer Coaching Is My Religion”

Galeski got his foot in the door of Champaign Unit 4 as an elementary classroom aide paired with a high school coaching gig at Central High School; he has been both a boys and girls coach at Central … sometimes both. He’d already coached youth teams since he was 15 years old and knew if he couldn’t play, he wanted to be coaching.

Serious back problems – he’s had three surgeries – cost him any chances of playing professionally, and for Galeski it was a very real possibility. The Colorado Rapids, a Major League Soccer franchise, were definitely interested, but the results of his team physical closed the door on that chapter in a hurry.

“I started (having pain) midway through our junior year,” said Galeski. “I just kind of played through it. Senior year it became a lot more of a pain and a problem. I can tell you right now I probably didn’t play a game above 80 percent my entire senior year. It kind of got to a point where it hurt so much and for so long it just became normal and I didn’t think about it.

“As soon as Colorado happened, I just put (a pro career) in the back of my mind. When you’re trying to play at an elite level at an elite speed, my body just couldn’t hold up to it. They took me in for the physical and the doctor said ‘I don’t even know how you were playing. This is one of the most herniated discs I’ve ever seen.’”

The high school coaching has given way to Galeski’s college coaching duties at Parkland and the impending addition of a baby girl to his young family. He says it’s bittersweet because he’s loved every minute of the prep coaching, but also knew all along it was part of his desired career arc.

“The Parkland head coach, Mark Sikora, I’ve known him for years,” explained Galeski. “Three years ago I was out coaching my girls and he showed up at practice. He said ‘Look, I need a little bit of help. I just need some new ideas, some new energy as far as our fitness preparation, our technical work. I’ve seen you coach; would this be something you’re interested in?’

“It was a tough decision because I loved my high school boys team so much. I don’t think I’ve ever had another team quite like them. It was a family. For my career, though, it was good. Plus it was an avenue for them to get into college. I wasn’t leaving to just coach Parkland, but to also come back and bring them to college. The year before I got there, I think (Parkland) had maybe two local kids. Right now, we’ve got 12 from the Champaign-Urbana-Danville area.”

That includes several a trio of players who were under Galeski’s tutelage at Edison and Central; years later, he’s having a similar impact on these kids that Mr. Brecken had on his and hopes to keep it up for a long time as a college coach.

“I’m getting a taste for it here at Parkland, just being able to go out and recruit,” said Galeski. “That’s what I like to do. You go out and watch some kids, you recruit them, you try to find the best kids for your school and your team. Plus, it’s soccer. I get to go out and watch soccer.

“And I can give these kids a chance to go to college. It’s not necessarily about getting the best team; yes, we want the best team we can get, but at the same time we want to get the right kids to the college. I just love talking to people, so going out and talking to these kids and trying to influence them any way I can. I just love it.

“College coaching is what I want to do. Now, teaching is what I love to do, but soccer coaching is kind of like my religion. It’s on another level for me. Yes, I love teaching and being around the kids and all that influence, but coaching is the career I want to head down. Is that going to happen? I don’t know. If I can find an opportunity like this up in Chicago where I can teach and coach? That’s a dream.”

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