Naperville Central’s Bob Sterr remembered as caring mentor

Bob Sterr retired from teaching and coaching at Naperville Central nearly 20 years ago, but he never really left.

The Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Famer remained a friend and mentor to his former colleagues and often attended basketball games at the school where he taught math for 28 years.

Those colleagues were unanimous in calling Sterr, who died at his home in Oswego on Nov. 10 at age 85, a class act.

Retired Naperville Central baseball coach Bill Seiple, who was inducted alongside Sterr into the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 2015, was shocked by the news.

“I know he’d been having some health problems, but we didn’t expect this,” Seiple said. “The Naperville Central community really lost a great one.

“I didn’t know anybody who didn’t like him and didn’t respect him. He was the best.”

Bob Sterr, center, who died Nov. 10 at age 85, compiled a 379-264 record as Naperville Central’s boys basketball coach, winning 10 conference titles and nine regional championships.

Sterr, a native of Kankakee, coached basketball, football, golf, and track and field during a 46-year career in education. He is best known for his accomplishments in basketball, a sport in which he won 528 games as the coach at Bishop McNamara from 1964 to 1975 and at Naperville Central from 1979 to 2003.

Sterr compiled a record of 379-264 at Naperville Central, winning 10 conference titles and nine regional championships. His 1992-93 team reached the supersectional and was led by future NBA player Anthony Parker, who is the older brother of WNBA star Candace Parker.

“Sterr’s positivity, genuineness and how much he cared for people are the biggest things I took from him, and I still try to model him in that way,” Anthony Parker said in a text relayed through his sister and Naperville Central girls basketball coach Andy Nussbaum, who taught in the math department with Sterr.

Naperville Central boys golf coach Barry Baldwin was an assistant to Sterr before succeeding him in 2004.

“He was just a brilliant coach, a student of the game,” Baldwin said. “He wore two completely different-style hats when it comes to golf and basketball.

“In golf, it was about etiquette and course management and handling your emotions, not X’s and O’s. Then you head over to the basketball court, and it’s about working as a team and being in the right place at the right time.”

Baldwin said student-athletes lucky enough to be coached by Sterr were in the right place.

“The biggest thing that made him effective is he cared about kids beyond the golf course or the basketball court,” Baldwin said. “He cared about each kid as a person. It wasn’t about the wins and the losses. It was about having compassion toward a teenager, and the winning would take care of itself.”

Naperville Central boys basketball coach Pete Kramer has followed that example. He was the sophomore coach for 12 years before succeeding Sterr in 2003.

“Bob was a great friend, and he was a father figure to me, almost like a second father,” Kramer said. “He was really good to me and my family.”

After retiring, Sterr stayed away from the program for four years to let Kramer establish himself and then returned as an assistant for three seasons. Sterr remained a confidant until the end.

“We talked all the time,” Kramer said. “When we were struggling, we would talk basketball. I talked to him two weeks ago. The last time I saw him, I thought he looked pretty good. (His death) was kind of a surprise.”

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Baldwin, too, was in regular contact with Sterr.

“I talked to him the day before,” Baldwin said. “He was in great spirits.”

Sterr is survived by his wife of 61 years, Mary Kay, six children and 10 grandchildren, nearly all of whom live nearby.

“He was a great guy who happened to be a basketball coach,” Seiple said. “He loved basketball, and he loved golf, but he certainly wasn’t defined by that. He had a terrific family. His wife is a wonderful lady.”

Which is why the mood of the school community on Friday was somber.

“It really hit hard,” Seiple said. “It’s just a very sad time. Bob was all Naperville Central. You couldn’t ask for a better guy.”

Matt Le Cren is a freelance reporter for the Naperville Sun.

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