The 100-year-old rocking chair inside the Foerch house in Homewood never had a chance against a young Doug Foerch more than four decades ago.
The son of Dick and Barbara Foerch figured the piece of furniture would serve quite nicely as an apparatus to execute a gymnastics strength move.
“Broke the chair,” a smiling Doug Foerch — now 55, a Deerfield resident and in his 33rd year in coaching and in his 35th year as a gymnastics judge — recalls after ordering a glass of water and pumpkin pancakes (with walnuts in the batter) at Rhapsody Café in Deerfield.
“Dad,” he adds with a chuckle, “was kind of mad.”
Doug Foerch, therefore, is kind of a successful coach. The Homewood-Flossmoor High School graduate and former top-notch gymnast at Northern Illinois University coached Mundelein High School boys gymnastics teams to six state championships between 1988 and 2001; helped Deerfield High School graduate Christina Loukas — a two-time USA Olympian — capture three state diving championships (2001-03); and guided Deerfield High School’s boys gymnastics team to a program-best third-place showing at the state meet last spring.
“My coaching style is a combination of the one my father [who died at the age of 90, in 2015] had and the one my coach at NIU [Chuck Ehrlich] preferred,” says the 5-foot-8, 160-pound Foerch, who’s as fit as most elite triathletes are, thanks to a workout regimen of two hours per day. “My dad was soft-spoken, a gymnastics coach who’d put an arm around an athlete and say, ‘Let me show you the right way to do a routine.’ Coach Ehrlich was loud, much louder than my father and as knowledgeable as my father. But you wanted him to be loud, you wanted him to yell at times, because that meant he cared about you, saw something in you.”
Foerch, a PE/health teacher and a gymnastics/diving coach at District 113 high schools (Deerfield and Highland Park) since 2002, has been sporting a flat-top ’do for just about forever. It’s his way of paying tribute to his father, who fought in World War II and coached boys gymnastics teams at Thornton, Reavis and Thornwood high schools. Countless gymnasts under Doug Foerch’s direction have competed at big meets with a similar cut.
The look is tight and clean and a not-so-subtle reminder of the discipline he expects — make that, demands — from his athletes.
“In the middle of one of my practices, a gymnast left the floor and started to head toward his gym bag,” Foerch recalls. “I asked him, ‘Where are you going?’ He said, ‘To check my phone.’ ”
Foerch’s reply, a nanosecond later: “No you’re not; get back here.”
Foerch has never owned a cell phone.
Has never … texted a message.
“I don’t need all of the distractions that come with owning a cell phone,” says Foerch, who rode his bike to meet me at the restaurant on a Saturday morning, a couple of hours before the start of Deerfield High’s girls diving practice. “You know what? I still know how to use a landline.”
Foerch grins and then inhales another bite of a pumpkin pancake. He’s old-school; I’m old-school. I am tempted to clink water glasses with him.
I think of a wedding. I then ask him how he met his wife, Jeanie.
Foerch’s eyes begin to dance.
“She was a business teacher at Mundelein [High School] when I started teaching and coaching there,” Foerch says. “We went to the school’s homecoming together. I guess you could stay that was our first date. We danced together, for only one dance, because we saw kids near the dance floor and noticed they were talking about us. I said to Jeanie, ‘Let’s get out of here.’ ”
They got married in 1989.
They have four children: Brock, 26; Cody, 24; Colt, 21; and Lexis, 19. Each adores math. Brock and Cody teach the subject at North Chicago High School and Zion-Benton High School, respectively. Colt and Lexis major in math at Trinity International University in Deerfield.
Doug Foerch grew up in a household with five siblings — the late Jeff; Brad, 58; Steve, 57; Laura, 53; and Shelley, 52. Their 88-year-old mother lives in Hazel Crest.
Doug, Brad and Steve competed at the same state gymnastics meet when Doug was a freshman at Homewood-Flossmoor HS and that antique rocking chair was resting in pieces. Brad and Steve also became accomplished gymnastics coaches at Illinois high schools.
“My father, my brothers … all were major influences when I was a kid,” says Doug Foerch, a member at Christ Church in Lake Forest since the early 2000s. “Gymnastics clubs did not exist back then. But we did gymnastics all year. It helped, with my dad letting us work out in the gym at Thornwood High School. During gymnastics seasons, I’d work out at 6 a.m., go to school, attend gymnastics practice after school and then work out some more at Thornwood after dinner. Going at it for seven hours a day wasn’t unusual.”
Foerch began his career as a gymnastics judge in his junior year at NIU, making $25 each time he judged a meet. He and other Huskies gymnasts traveled all over Illinois to earn the money.
“We probably spent that much money on gas on those weekends,” Foerch, chuckling again, says. “You know what? That was a big deal, because it was a job, and we got to work with knowledgeable gymnastics people at a young age.”
Decades later, Foerch hasn’t lost an ounce of passion for the sport, for coaching, for teaching.
Deerfield HS graduate Heath Ogawa — now an All-American men’s diver at Lake Forest College — won a state gymnastics title on vault with a 9.5 in 2015, his senior season. He hadn’t executed a routine until Foerch introduced him to gymnastics in his freshman year.
“That was a great moment, seeing Heath up there on a podium and smiling at the state meet,” Foerch says. “But sometimes the biggest reward of coaching comes during the regular season, when a kid either achieves a personal-best score or sticks a routine for the first time at a meet. I love those moments. I love it when a gymnast realizes all that hard work was worth it.
“The look I enjoy noticing, more than any other, from a gymnast’s face … it’s the one that says, ‘Yes, finally!’ ”