H. Friedlein takes on duty as new Northbrook athletic director

Heather Friedlein has been a physical education teacher and the girls’ track and field coach at Northbrook School in Mendota for the last two years. Starting July 1, she is adding to her duties as the new Northbrook athletic director. (Reporter photo by Brandon LaChance)


Staff writer

MENDOTA – When Heather Friedlein graduated from Northbrook School in 2004 and Mendota High School in 2008, she didn’t think she would walk the hallways again.

In August 2020, she not only walked the hallways, but she took a desk and a team at Northbrook as a physical education teacher and the girls’ track and field coach.

Starting July 1, she is further engraining herself as a fixture in the school as she will become the next athletic director.

“It never really was a thought. There is nothing against Northbrook or anything, but it's kind of weird to think of it as coming full circle like it has,” said Friedlein, who graduated from Northern Illinois University with a Bachelor’s Degree in physical education equipped with a minor in health education, and then attended the NIU Master’s Program for sports management. “Troy Bauer and I started at the same time. We looked at each other and said, 'We used to go here and now we're teaching.' It was just weird.

“Now, I'm in charge of the athletics here. It's weird how everything comes full circle.”

Although Friedlein is new as the athletic department head at Northbrook, she is not new to the duties the position includes.

Before becoming a Spartan P.E. teacher, she worked in Mendota at Holy Cross on Tuesdays and Fridays, and in Oglesby at Holy Family on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Monday’s location just depended on the current school-calendar quarter.

“I was the athletic director at Holy Cross for eight years. At Holy Family, I did athletic director duties, mainly scheduling, for four years,” Friedlein said. “I found out I really love to do it. I love organization. I realized you can connect more with the kids and just being part of those memories for them is awesome. 

“When I came to Northbrook and applied, they did say there would be an opening coming up in the future. Right there, I told them I'd like to put my name in. I’m happy I’m at one central location now instead of having to jump around between schools and towns.”

Friedlein is replacing now-retired athletic director David Knottnerus.

Knottnerus was a long-tenured athletic director, physical education teacher, and basketball coach at Northbrook who had held these different duties for three decades.

“All through last year, I kind of shadowed him. He would work on something and then show me what he did and the best ways to do certain duties,” said Friedlein, who played basketball and ran track when she attended Northbrook. “I can shoot him a text or an email and he responds to me right away. He has been extremely helpful, and he said he would be willing to help anytime I needed it.

“I think shadowing him and him giving me some of his knowledge helped with the pressure of filling his shoes. I'm going to be more nervous once we start. Right now, I'm sitting at home sending emails. Once we actually start and it's the first soccer game, I'll take a big breath and tell myself, 'I'm really doing this.' It hasn't quite hit me yet.

“Everyone that I've told that I'm the athletic director and things that I'm working on, they have all said, 'Wait, Knottnerus is leaving?' Everyone knew who he was and that he was the athletic director. He's definitely a staple.” 

Friedlein knows she is taking a solid athletic program and doesn’t have to redevelop the wheel.

However, she does have an aspect of sports, school, and community she would like to reform after COVID-19 did some dismantling.

“The part I love about athletics is it is the foundation to teach these kids lifelong skills. Respect, responsibility, and all of that kind of stuff can be generated in sports,” Friedlein said. “Extracurricular activities are the perfect platform for that.

“This isn't anyone's fault, but with COVID-19 everything got disconnected. With things being canceled and rescheduled so much, I kind of want to make sure the district, and especially Northbrook, and everyone is aware of the schedules and successes the kids are having, so the teachers can get there and congratulate the kids in the hallways.

“We had a kid, Sebastian Carlos, win state in the 400-meter dash, and just communicating that within the districts was huge. We went to the Lincoln Relays (Lincoln Elementary School's end of the year races and games) and little kids were yelling Sebastian's name. He didn't know any of the kids, but it was because their teachers told them who he was and his accomplishment.”