A line had to be drawn.
"I can't wear any North stuff," said Kyle Gramit, a 2005 Naperville North graduate who assists coach Bryan Johnwick with the Naperville Central boys volleyball team.
Don't call it treason - it was an opportunity. Gramit's relationship with Johnwick, a director and coach with Sports Performance in Aurora, allowed him to use his sports management degree from George Mason, albeit very loosely.
"It was a little weird," said Gramit, an all-state player at Naperville North, "but I knew the head coach and it's coaching, so I can't complain."
From January through March he was playing professionally in Switzerland. Tuesday he was with the Redhawks at Wheaton Warrenville South.
"I love it," the 22-year-old said via cell phone. "It's a fun way to keep my skills honed, because I try to teach them things I do as well. Using the muscle memory, it helps me help them - and it helps me fix my own stuff."
His stuff is just fine. The 6-foot-5 Gramit was selected for the USA Youth National Team in 2005 and ranks in George Mason's top four in blocks, kills, digs and service aces, No. 1 in aces. He was a three-time Eastern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association all-conference outside and right-side hitter.
After Gramit's 2009 graduation he sought a pro gig abroad. At first nothing clicked so he helped Johnwick at Sports Performance. Finally, on a tip from former college teammate R.J. Goubeaux, in January Gramit's agent landed a contract with the Lugano Dragons in Switzerland.
"I found out noon on Sunday I had to play Monday night," Gramit said.
He found the Dragons experience somewhat relaxed. Besides the six players who got paid, the team comprised high school-age players and adults who worked full time. His roommates - one Albanian, one Brazilian - spoke enough broken English for Kyle to understand.
As for training, he was "shocked."
"Coming from Sports Performance and then George Mason, we practiced hard for like three hours every day getting our training down," he said. "For Lugano, their practices weren't really intense from the standards that I've been playing. Very lackadaisical."
Gramit was named most valuable player of a match four times and was the Dragons' Swiss Cup Final MVP as well. (His father, Erv, noted, "For his prizes he was given five free meals, a golden volleyball and a towel.")
Kyle reveals the full scale of his appreciation.
"Lugano's a beautiful city. It's like, right inside the mountains, and there's a valley and everything. There's a lake right by it," he said.
"Yeah, the volleyball was always a highlight for me. But when we'd walk up the hill to go to our car, we'd be looking over a little river to see Italy. And at night when all the lights are on..."
Obviously a man who enjoys scenery, Gramit's hoping to see more in a higher-level league in Switzerland, or in Poland, or this summer playing beach volleyball.
Meanwhile, he tours high school gyms with Naperville Central. The color scheme works - the Dragons were red and white, too.
"I wear that stuff every once in awhile," he said, "but there's no real dress code for me."
Another spiker with European pro experience, 2002 West Chicago graduate Andy Hein visited his alma mater in April.
In an event arranged by Wildcats volleyball coach Kris Hasty, the 6-foot-11 Hein spoke to the program's current players and signed their practice jerseys. In turn he watched the unveiling of framed memorabilia displays outside the school's Bishop Gym that included an autographed Hein U.S. National Team jersey.
A two-year All-America at Pepperdine who led West Chicago to Illinois' final four in 2001 and the elite eight in 2002, Hein is the starting middle blocker for the U.S. National Team. He hopes to compete in the 2012 Olympics as his current teammate, Wheaton Warrenville South's Sean Rooney, did in 2008. They're now training in Anaheim, Calif.
Hein wore flip-flops to his West Chicago appearance so an on-court session didn't happen. Hasty seemed to appreciate it more, calling the event "more intimate."
"That was real cool for our kids to see," Hasty said. "They were really intent, to have someone from here go that far in men's volleyball."
Where they treat you like family
You're not dozing off - that is former Driscoll football coach Mike "Buzz" Burzawa pitching cars in television commercials for Arlington Heights Ford.
An advertising campaign started in February explored the family angle. Since Burzawa has driven every car he's ever owned off his uncle John Guido's lot on West Dundee Road, the tie-in was perfect.
"They have the best Ford dealership in the country," Buzz said, selling his uncle's cars even on the phone at Evanston High, where he'll enter his third year as the Wildkits football coach.
Like cars, busting chops also runs in the family. When Buzz joked that business must have picked up since his commercials aired, Guido told him, "Buzz, we've had our worst month since you've been on TV."
Short work of Long Course
Last week we reported on some area swimmers competing at the Irish Long Course Nationals. Americans hopefully will be invited back after pigging out on ribbons and such.
Neuqua Valley junior Kevin Cordes set a new meet record in the 200-yard breaststroke. He also won the 50 breast and also placed second in the 100 breast. Hinsdale Central's Daniel Thomson finished second in the 1,500 freestyle, while Downers Grove North's Haley Sims joined a second-place 400 freestyle relay.