“A coach is someone who tells you what you don’t want to hear, who has you see what you don’t want to see, so you can be who you’ve always known you could be.” Tom Landry.
When folks around the Tri-Cities area, particularly Batavia, hear the name Dennis Prion, they will likely immediately think of one of the most successful and winningest coaches in the area, and perhaps the entire state. And why not. In the last 8 years (excluding the very strange 2020 season), under his leadership, the Bulldogs have amassed 85 wins, qualified for the IHSA State Playoffs seven times and won the IHSA Championship title twice. But there is more to Coach Piron than meets the eye, or the stats book. He is a combination of mathematician, business teacher and life counselor for nearly every kid who has sat in his classroom or locker room in the last 9 plus years. As one of the most vocal and passionate people in the community, when it comes to helping kids, he is the embodiment of Servant Leadership.
We sat down with the coach to ask him some pointed questions about his journey up to this point, how he is managing his students and athletes during this time, and where he’s headed in the future.
Bangarang: How long have you lived in Batavia and what does the community mean to you?
Dennis Piron: I have lived in Batavia just about my whole life. Other than college, I have lived here since I was born in 1965. The community means a great deal, especially now, as I have taught, coached or run a business here for over 33 years
Bangarang: Tell us a little about your background. (i.e. where you went to school, how long you’ve been teaching, and coaching).
Coach Piron: I went to Batavia HS and College at North Central in Naperville, a Business major at the time. I owned a business for about 10 years in downtown Batavia and coached that whole time as I do today. I have been teaching & Coaching for over 20 years.
Bangarang: What inspired you to teach as well as coach?
Dennis Piron: I think in both regards, the people who influenced me or helped me when I was younger were primarily coaches. I lost my father sophomore year at BHS and Coaches like Mike Gaspari, Mike Didomenico and Joe Yagel helped me a great deal with all the craziness I went through at that time.
Bangarang: What similarities do you see with your role in the classroom and on the field?
Dennis Piron: In the particular subject I teach now, small business/entrepreneurship, it is very similar. We build small student teams that compete against each other throughout the year, but also have to work together. I try to provide a good positive environment that students enjoy and can become passionate about, very much like sports coaching.
Bangarang: What do you like best about being a coach? A teacher?
Dennis Piron: The kids are always the best part. It is so much fun to really just support them and cheer them on. What is crazy about this, is being here for so long, I often know families and students from almost birth, so when they finally leave/graduate from here it is pretty emotional. Sometimes we spend more time with student-athletes over a season then their own families do, so you become very close and the transitions from BHS to real world/college are inspiring but also tough.
Bangarang: These are very difficult times for teachers and students, as well as for coaches and athletes. What are you doing to manage these two areas of your life during this time, and how are you helping students to cope?
Dennis Piron: I am trying every way I can to stay connected to them and in constant communication with them. It is important that we socialize using any means available to us.
Bangarang: What are the most important life lessons you have learned over the years, and how do you apply these to your students and athletes?
Dennis Piron: I think it would be that if you can create something or build something students enjoy and want to take part in, you can use that thing as a powerful tool to help many kids get through a very tough part of life. Also, I would say that successful teams are very close and have collaborative relationships where everyone feels valued and part of the success.
Bangarang: If you had to pick one, what would you say your greatest accomplishment has been in your career and why?
Dennis Piron: I would say simply changing my life’s path at a young age and allowing the passion I had for coaching to eventually turn into my career path. It was not easy at the time as I gave up a lot of financial opportunities, but what has happened since; the relationships, friendships and awesome things I have seen, has been unreal.
Bangarang: If you had to predict, how do you see next year’s football season looking for BHS?
Dennis Piron: AWESOME! Measured on player satisfaction, I hope something they are really looking forward to and excited to join in on.
Bangarang: You’ve been teaching and coaching for a long time, and lived an extremely hectic schedule. You have to be at least considering retirement at some point in the next few years. How does someone who has played such a central role in the community transition into that “next phase of life” and what do you see yourself doing at that time?
Dennis Piron: I don’t know, but I am looking forward to those days and spending time with some of the same people I have coached with all these years. GO BULLDOGS!!!