Following a home volleyball match last week, Lake Forest High School senior middle blocker Brian Stickler picked up at least six empty water and Gatorade bottles. He cradled them on his way to a trash bin.
The 6-foot-4, 185-pounder — a basketball player in the winter — then released them.
The tumbling containers hit nothing but …. the bottom of the bin.
“I don’t like a dirty gym,” Stickler said. “And why should [a janitor] clean up after us? We’re the ones responsible for the empty bottles, right?”
Back in February, Stickler attended a school dance held in the main gym. The event featured a bubble machine. Stickler looked up at one of the basketball backboards on that night and noticed something disturbing.
“The bubbles,” he recalled, “had left streaks [of liquid] on it. I thought about getting up there and cleaning that backboard.
“I also saw scuff marks on the court. I was not happy.”
Scouts varsity volleyball coach Steve Wolf, for one, would have been upset had Stickler decided not to lace ’em up and hit the hardwood for his spikers this spring.
Stickler nearly chose to rest his knees for his last few months at LFHS rather than use them to elevate for blocks.
“His basketball season was a pretty long one, and he was banged up,” Wolf said. “I’d heard he was thinking about not coming out for volleyball this year. I told him, ‘You’re the kind of individual who has the opportunity to set a positive tone for a young group like ours.’ I also mentioned that he would have a lasting impact on teammates because of his ideal demeanor and ability to establish the kind of culture our program needs.”
Stickler — who hopes to earn a spot as a walk-on basketball player at Purdue, his parents’ (Carolann and Paul) alma mater — listened to Wolf’s ardent pitch.
The words convinced Stickler to show up for the first day of the volleyball season on March 6.
“After that,” Stickler said, “I returned the second day. I had to; I’m not a quitter. I’ve never been that kind of guy.”
It has been a bumpy spring for Wolf’s Scouts, who slipped to 6-20 (0-5 in the North Suburban Conference) with a 25-23, 19-25, 25-22 loss to visiting Zion-Benton on May 3. Injuries forced Lake Forest to play without starting sophomore setter Justin McCartney and senior backup setter Max Doerfler against the Zee-Bees. Opposite hitter Kevin Lamp — another Scouts sophomore on varsity — smacked a team-high 18 kills with a hitting percentage of .351 in the NSC match. Junior outsider hitter Joseph Chamberlain struck six kills, and junior libero Jacob Danneker finished with a team-best 11 digs.
“Brian,” Wolf said, “has been a tremendous presence for us, especially when we practice. Brian pushes his teammates to be better players. He’s an athlete who plays volleyball, and he’s an athlete with leadership abilities. He continues to be a stellar example for all of our young guys.”
The youngest guy on the court — at the Midtown Athletic Club in Bannockburn — was always Brian Stickler, back in his days as a seventh-grader. Stickler and his father played early-morning basketball games there, sometimes twice a week.
Paul Stickler grew up while playing hoops in Minnesota. His son’s favorite professional sports teams are the Twins, the Vikings and the Wild — Minnesota franchises. Though his favorite NBA player is former Timberwolves and Celtics big man Kevin Garnett, Brian Stickler roots for the Milwaukee Bucks.
“I’ve never liked Chicago sports teams,” said Stickler, who likes to read books by action adventure and suspense novelist Nelson DeMille. Bring up DeMille around Stickler, and Stickler will ask you if you’ve read Plum Island.
The other avid DeMille fan in the family?
“My mom got me interested in reading when I was a first- or second-grader,” Stickler said. “I’ve enjoyed reading ever since; we talk about books we’ve read. I love the sarcastic tone DeMille uses in his books.”
The plot in a Lake Forest-Libertyville boys basketball game two winters ago thickened twice. The Scouts — down by 20 points at one point — survived that road battle in double overtime, with Stickler often disrupting the passing lanes as the top man in a 1-3-1 zone defense. He also scored 15 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in the thriller.
This past winter, in another game against Libertyville, Stickler popped for his first varsity dunk and finished with 17 points. He averaged nearly nine points per game and paced the Scouts in rebounds (116) and blocks (16) in 2016-17.
“He’s not just a serious athlete who shows composure when he competes,” Lamp said after a recent volleyball match. “Brian has a sense of what needs to be said and done in front of his teammates. Good leaders do that.
“At first,” Lamp added, “Brian came across as a little intimidating to me. But it didn’t take me long to realize he’s a good guy, a nice guy, a down-to-earth guy.”
The guy with a knack for gathering scattered bottles in his school’s main gym isn’t exactly a stickler for cleanliness at home.
“My room,” Stickler said with a smile, “is a mess.”
Stickler later showed his earnest side as he looked around his school’s main gym last week and reflected on his years as a two-sport athlete at LFHS.
“I have probably spent more time in this gym than I have at home in the last few years,” said Stickler, who envisions a career in a sports-related business after his years at Purdue. “Playing sports has meant everything to me. I wouldn’t be the person I am now had I not had my experiences in sports. The basketball and volleyball teammates I’ve gotten to know really well — they’ll be my lifelong friends.”
Notable: Lake Forest went 2-3 and finished in 11th place at the 16-team Glenbrook North Tournament last weekend. The Scouts (8-23) beat Evanston in straight sets and Elk Grove in three. LF freshman Brennan Marzella recorded his varsity kill and block in a loss to Glenbard West.