Thirteen turned out to be a lucky number for Deerfield High School coach Doug Foerch when he was named Illinois diving coach of the year.
Between diving and gymnastics, the two sports he mentors, this was the 13th time Foerch has received the honor, twice for diving and 11 times for gymnastics, in 28 seasons of coaching.
He coaches the boy and girl divers at Deerfield as well the boys gymnastics squads for both the Warriors and Highland Park High School.
When he came to Deerfield from Mundelein in 2002 to teach health and physical education, he already had coached the Mustangs to six state championships as well as mentoring more than 30 individual title winners.
"It's a nice honor. I was a little bit surprised," Foerch said of the award March 14. "It usually goes to the (coach of the) team with the best athletes." He did get a boost as Sean Scarry took third and Ryan Church placed fifth as Warriors in the state meet March 1 in Evanston.
Church credit his coach as part of the reason for his medal and an opportunity to dive at the University of Denver next year. The mental aspect is a critical part of what Foerch offered Scarry and Church.
"We treated the (large) invites, the (Central Suburban) league and sectional like the state meet," Church said. He and Scarry knew how many points they needed each step of the way at each of those competitions. "When we got to state we felt like we'd been there before."
Foerch was also coach of the year in girls diving in 2003. That year, Christina Loukas won the state championship and set a record that still stands while Sam Papadakis took third. Loukas, who went on to compete for the United States in the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, remembers the help she received from Foerch when she was at Deerfield.
"I still have a letter he wrote me before I went for the (state) record," Loukas said. "I was super nervous. He said no matter what I did, he would be so proud. He is the kind of person you want to keep in your life."
While diving was already an established sport at Deerfield when Foerch arrived, the Warriors had no gymnastics team and the Giants barely had a pulse. He changed that, but it took some creativity.
"Highland Park had nine guys and there was no one from Deerfield," Foerch said. That is when he was approached by Larry Milstein, a Warrior baseball player who was a gymnast in younger years. "'Is there a way I can compete (in gymnastics) at Highland Park,' he asked me."
Then Foerch found out what the Warriors and Giants had to do to compete together as a co-op team.
"The schools had to approve it," Foerch said. They did. "Then the conference had to vote on it. They approved it for two years and then we had to reapply." During that time, Milstein was the program's only state champion, winning the parallel bars in 2005.
In 2012, the Central Suburban League decided conference schools could no longer join forces. The Warriors and Giants then fielded separate teams with Foerch at the helm. They practice together and go against other teams together in triangular meets with the scores counting against the other school, but not each other.
Foerch turned athletes from rival schools into ones who worked to help each other.
"It still feels like we're together as a team," Highland Park captain Dylan Abbott said. "We cheer for each other like it was still a co-op."