Sacred Heart-Griffin Head Football Coach Ken Leonard closed out his 43-year coaching career on Friday with a record sixth state title. His undefeated Cyclones cruised to a 44-20 win over New Lenox Providence Catholic, for the Class 4A championship. He retired at the end of the season, as the all-time winningest football coach in the Illinois High School Association, with a record of 419-81.

Coach Ken Leonard and Bishop Thomas John Paprocki pray with team members before the state title game. (Photo by Greg Puckel)

“I’ll never lose another game,” Leonard quipped in reflecting on his retirement and going out on top.

In all seriousness, he remembered how he got there. It was a Viatorian, the late Fr. Robert Erickson, CSV, who hired  Leonard to coach the football team at the former Griffin High School for Boys in Springfield.

“He changed my life,” Leonard says. “I’ve spent the rest of my life here.”

Fr. Erickson hired Leonard in 1984, during his years as principal, from 1978 to 1988. He then served as vice principal and director of development at Sacred Heart-Griffin High School from 1988 to 1991.

“He was very fair and great to work for,” Leonard says. “He wanted us to be the best we could be and he gave me every opportunity to do that.”

Fr. Robert Erickson, circa 1988, as principal of Griffin High School for Boys

Mostly, Leonard remembers how the school’s Catholic identity permeated the football program.

“We (the football team and coaches) went to Mass every Friday, and Fr. Erickson said a lot of those Masses,” he says. “We weren’t bashful about who we were as a Catholic, Christian community.”

During his early years at Griffin and later at Sacred Heart-Griffin, Leonard remembers working for then Athletic Director, Fr. Robert M. Egan, CSV, who first interviewed him, and alongside Fr. Thomas von Behren, CSV, who was an underclassmen baseball coach.

“When I first got here, there were a number of Viatorians here,” Coach Leonard says. “There were great educators, who led boys to become men and they did it the right way.

“I loved working for the Viatorians,” he adds. “It was a great place to coach. I’ve been blessed.”