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A new dynasty at the College of DuPage
By Ron Skrabacz | Daily Herald Columnist

Paul Zakowski is in his third year as the leader of the athletic program at the College of DuPage.

 

Tanit Jarusan | Staff Photographer

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Published: 10/19/2008 12:02 AM

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After five years, it is probably safe to use the word "dynasty" in describing the athletic program at the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn.

Thanks to a strong spring sports season that saw COD send five out of six sports teams to national competition, the COD Chaparrals were awarded the 2007-08 Award Cup from the National Alliance of Two-Year College Athletic Administrators (NATYCCA). It was the fifth year that COD has won the award since it was established five years ago.

Paul Zakowski, now entering his third year as athletic director, was presented the trophy recently and could not be prouder of the 300 student athletes representing COD.

"It really is remarkable," he said of the five-year run. "We've won this award every year they've offered it, so it's quite an achievement. No doubt about it."

College of DuPage competes in the Division III non-scholarship division with points being awarded based on how teams finish at the national championships. There are nearly 120 colleges that fall into the non-scholarship division, with fewer than 70 of them scoring points in 2007-08. The Chaparrals scored 148.5 points to edge out Herkimer County College which finished with 143.0 points.

The Award Cup is just icing on the cake according to Zakowski.

"I like to think we have a lot of nice things going on at the College of DuPage," he said. "In my experience, and I've been in athletics now for 15 years, it all starts at the top. We have an administration that's dedicated to athletics. We offer 17 intercollegiate sports and that's fantastic."

Six of those 17 sports teams compete in the spring and it was their performance that helped put COD over the top. Five of them - men and women's track, men and women's tennis, and softball - all participated in the national competition in their respective sport.

"They all made it to nationals last spring, and they all did an outstanding job," Zakowski said. "That's really what pulled us through to win the trophy last year."

Naturally, the athletes have to perform well to win such an award, but Zakowski insists it starts long before the players even take the field or court.

"If you have an administration that is committed, not so much to winning, but just committed to supporting an athletic program, that makes all the difference in the world," he said. "That makes it a lot easier. We have that at the College of DuPage. Then you add that into the fact that we have an outstanding coaching staff, and we're just very fortunate."

Zakowski could sense that commitment the first time he set foot on the COD campus.

"When I walked out on the campus for the first time, I always say it was like a wow factor," he said. "Just the facilities we have. They're outstanding for a community college. There are a lot of four-year programs that would be jealous of what we have as far as facilities. And that obviously helps a lot."

The commitment of the coaching also impressed Zakowski.

"We're fortunate to have a coaching staff that's very dedicated. We haven't had a lot of turnover in coaches. The continuity we've been able to keep in the coaching staff definitely helps too."

He also recognizes that the DuPage County area is blessed with some very good athletic programs that almost act as a feeder system.

"We just have some real good student athletes, and I think they appreciate what College of DuPage has to offer as a school itself," he said. "And we get the benefit of them coming in and joining our athletic programs and then being very successful."

Many of the student athletes also hold jobs as they try to maintain the delicate balance between academics and athletics. Some teams, such as the football team, participate in local community service activities, as well as mandatory study hall. And remember, all of these participants are non-scholarship athletes, so self-motivation runs high in this group.

"We're very proud of what we've done athletically," Zakowski said. "But we realize the real goal is to move these young men and women on to a four-year program, or get them their associate degree. We really emphasize their academic work. That's the important thing."