Gary Cole moved with his family from New Jersey to St. Charles in time for the 1979-80 school year, which proved to be fortuitous timing in the Saints' efforts to launch a new soccer program.
Cole arrived at St. Charles High for his junior and senior years, the first two years the Saints fielded IHSA-sanctioned soccer teams. He was a solid contributor as a junior and the team's leading scorer as a senior, helping the Saints go 13-6-2 in the 1980 season under coach Tim Dailey.
Cole is among four new inductees to the St. Charles East Fighting Saints Hall of Fame as a Jodie Harrison Lifetime Achievement Award recipient. He and Chris Hagemann (class of 1983, boys soccer),
Rod Osborne (class of 1969, boys golf) and Brian Rogers (class of 1987, football and boys basketball) will be honored before tonight's 6 p.m. tipoff of the East-North boys basketball game.
"I think it's kind of somewhat rare that somebody that plays a new sport at a new school, very first year there, and all the sudden this many years later [the school] is inducting you to the hall of fame," Cole said. "The sport wasn't established and so it's really kind of hard to figure out what expectations would be with something brand new, but we kind of picked it up fairly quickly with having a good coach, and that really got us going in the right direction. We had a great group of players that wanted to learn and wanted to win."
Cole played high school soccer as an underclassman in New Jersey. At that time, soccer was only a club sport in St. Charles, so he arrived in the Midwest considerably more polished than most of his new classmates.
"Trying to kind of compare New Jersey to here, that's kind of difficult because out there [soccer] was established," Cole said. "Kids played all the time. Kids grew up playing soccer. I think Tri-Cities [youth] soccer only started a couple years before in 1977. Soccer ended up being fairly new back then. It wasn't popular in this particular area."
Cole was a forward for the Saints and at Waubonsee Community College, and was a team captain at both schools. He then walked on the men's soccer team at Western Illinois, becoming a defensive starter for the Leathernecks.
St. Charles High did not have a soccer conference to compete in when Cole was in high school.
"There wasn't anyone for us to play against," Cole said. "Now to see that Tri-Cities rivalry is pretty awesome. … I'm proud to be part of it from the beginning."
The 50-year-old has remained influential on the local soccer scene well into adulthood.
Cole was a founding member of the St. Charles Celtics, a summer team for local soccer enthusiasts that has played at various spots – the Kane County Fairgrounds, a field behind the Kane County Government Center, Good Templar Park and now East Side Sports Complex – for more than 30 years.
He also is active in indoor leagues at the Sportsplex.
"I'm still doing OK – not too bad," Cole said. "I can still put the ball in the back of the net. Certainly as you get older, it slows you down a little bit, but what I'm looking forward to is the league I'm playing in is getting ready to have an over-48 league. That's perfect for me."
Cole, who lives in Batavia, runs Gary Cole Design, which does graphic design for businesses, websites and, no surprise, has helped design materials for various local soccer groups, such as the Celtics and the annual St. Charles high school alumni tournament.
• Jay Schwab is sports editor of the Kane County Chronicle. He can be reached at 630-845-5382 or firstname.lastname@example.org.