Want to see Dennis Piron squirm?
Don’t bother watching the Batavia coach on the sideline during another one of those tight games his teams so often seem to play.
He’s been through too many of those to be rattled by that.
But ask Piron about his part in the record his Bulldogs have compiled in his 12 years as head coach, and watch the level of discomfort rise for the Fox Valley town’s native son.
He’s proud of it, as well he should be, but he’d rather focus on the players.
Batavia has won 85% of its games in Piron’s tenure, going 118-21 and making the playoffs every year in that stretch except the pandemic year they weren’t held. His teams have won two state titles, reached the semifinals twice and quarterfinals twice.
“We pinch ourselves,” Piron said of his coaching staff, much of which is homegrown, too. “We’re giddy that this is happening at all. These kids are amazing.”
So is Piron, a charismatic leader I’ve often thought of as the Pied Piper of Batavia for the numbers he attracted to the boys and girls track programs he led when I began covering him 23 years ago.
They have also followed him in droves to the football program.
Piron and Batavia (10-3) are back, set to kick off at 4 p.m. Saturday in the Class 7A championship game at the University of Illinois’ Memorial Stadium in Champaign.
The Bulldogs will play Mount Carmel (13-0), the team that ended their season last year in the second round by scoring a touchdown on an untimed play following a disputed penalty.
Batavia will also be aiming for a unique double, having won the Class 4A boys track state title in the spring. Winning both in the same calendar year would be an impressive feat.
Piron has been coaching football at his alma mater for 34 years, quickly switching careers after graduating from North Central College, where he ran track.
He had started a career in the business world and was working in downtown Chicago when he volunteered to keep stats for coach Mike Gaspari, who had been a young assistant on the staff when Piron was a senior.
“He volunteered for a year and kinda got the coaching bug,” Gaspari said. “I guess you could say I conned him into it and helped convince him to return to school to get his teaching certificate.”
Piron became the defensive coordinator and was chosen to succeed Gaspari, who retired in 2010.
Almost simultaneously, David Andrews moved from Willowbrook to take the Batavia athletic director job. Piron assists him in that administrative role.
“What people don’t see and don’t understand is his work in the athletic department, Andrews said. “Organizing our facilities for the use over everybody, Dennis works with all the sports programs, marching band, color guard, youth feeder programs and any group associated with the Batavia community.”
Matt Holm, who graduated from Batavia a few years after Piron, joined Gaspari’s staff in 1991 and has directed Piron’s defense the past 12 years.
“Best move I made, firing myself as DC and hiring Matt,” Piron said.
“His main goal is always the kids first,” Holm said of Piron.
P.J. White, St. Edward’s athletic director, has watched Piron grow into the role. He still works for him as the Bulldogs’ offensive line coach.
White assisted with Batavia’s boys basketball program for 25 years, starting several years before Piron returned to the school.
“I think the first thing kids notice is how much Dennis cares for them,” White said. “You have to be hard on kids but be good to them, too. He does a nice job with that, and kids realize he wants what’s best for them.”
Piron said Gaspari got the ball rolling.
“It’s a unique community,” Piron said. “We’ve been blessed. Coach Gaspari really got things rolling and they’ve been going amazingly ever since. I’ve been lucky enough to be the guy here the last couple playoff runs that we’ve had.”
But Batavia’s top dog plays a key role.
“It’s a tremendous amount of work,” Holm said. “And it’s a passion.”
For players and coaches alike.
And it all starts with Piron.