Most athletes have a very difficult time accepting the fact that their playing careers are over. Former Northern Illinois University student Laura Chelcun is no stranger to this reality, but she discovered a knack for coaching the game she loves.
Chelcun played volleyball for Harper Community College in 2005 and served as an assistant volleyball coach at Harper from 2006 to 2011. She had a chance to try out and walk on to the NIU volleyball team, but she opted to focus on her undergraduate studies from 2006 to 2008. While she was commuting to NIU, she decided she wanted to try coaching, so she became an assistant coach at Harper under Bob Vilsoet.
While she acknowledged the transition from player to coach is very difficult, she began to learn the nuances of the sport from Vilsoet, who she said brings a wealth of knowledge to the table.
“He teaches you the smarts of the game and how to play it right,” she said. “He has a whole other perspective to the game that I’ve never seen with other coaches.”
Chelcun also said Vilsoet has taught her how to talk to players, how to give them a second chance, how to be patient and what to look for in athletes. Most importantly, she said Vilsoet is a master at managing a team and focusing on what will make each player on the team better.
Chelcun successfully transferred to NIU from Harper and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Family and Child Studies in May of 2008. She continued coaching the following season and began her master’s program in the fall of 2009 at the University of Illinois-Chicago (UIC) while remaining an assistant coach for the Hawks. In 2011, she accepted a position as a social worker at Richmond-Burton Community High School in Richmond, Ill. and is now the assistant girls’ varsity volleyball coach at the school.
“Laura is a great example of how Harper College is a terrific starting point for many students and student-athletes,” Vilsoet said.
With just over 800 students enrolled at Richmond-Burton, Chelcun fell in love with the small-town feel. As a social worker, her job is to promote the growth of social and emotional learning among students. She helps support students who have social or emotional challenges that interfere with their academic success.
“I love my job because every day brings a different challenge,” she said. “I get to use my knowledge and creativity to help students be more successful. What’s more rewarding than that?”
In her first year at Richmond-Burton (2011-12), she commuted to the school from West Dundee and also commuted to Harper because she was still an assistant coach for the Hawks.
The following summer, she got engaged to her fiancé Pete Karamitos, a special education teacher, football coach and basketball coach at Buffalo Grove High School. The couple moved into a home in Cary, lessening the distance she had to travel each day.
In her second year at the school (2012-13), she became the Rockets’ head sophomore volleyball coach. While she would no longer be a coach for the Hawks, she knew this was a prime opportunity to coach and continue her career as a social worker. The school became home for her.
This upcoming fall, Chelcun has been promoted to assistant varsity coach and will serve as the acting head coach in late September once the current head coach goes on maternity leave. The Rockets went 37-5 in 2012 and finished runner-up in the IHSA Class 3A girls’ volleyball state tournament.