IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Tom Livatino sits on a spacious couch in Loyola Academy’s Rambler Room, located above the balcony level of the school’s main gym. The passionate boys basketball coach had just finished fielding the final question about his team’s defeat of visiting St. Francis High School in early December.
Livatino hasn’t fully decompressed from his night of work, but he’s getting there. The comfy seat helps.
Above his head, rows of framed photos of former LA varsity players — clad in college basketball uniforms — hang.
The wall is crowded, busy.
Every wall in the Rambler Room is adorned with a variety of items. One features a pair of digital countdown clocks: one for the number of hours, minutes and seconds before the Ramblers’ next tip-off; the other for the number of hours, minutes and seconds before the Ramblers’ next rivalry game.
Postseason championship plaques cover portions of a wall.
Livatino had tacked the current squad’s Team Covenant not too far from the spots where posters reveal the team’s fitness records and names of the record-setting Ramblers.
The cozy room with the organized clutter also includes, among other objects, another couch, a conference table, a dartboard, a portable closet, bookshelves, stacks of game tapes, a University of Wisconsin Badgers trash bin and a piece of wood with the words, “To Dada Love Luke”, written in a child’s raw, jagged penmanship.
Luke, 7, is one of Livatino’s three children.
It’s fairly safe to assume another room like it does not exist in Illinois.
Or in the rest of the Western Hemisphere.
Most hoops teams congregate and strategize in locker rooms or in bland classrooms.
The former storage area for Christmas trees became the Rambler Room in 2013.
“We’re really lucky at Loyola Academy to have all of the facilities we have here,” Livatino, surrounded by his assistant coaches, says. “This room, this place, is very functional. It’s really important to the team, and I’m grateful we’re able to use it the way we do each season. We watch film and go over scouting reports in here. We spend halftimes up here. It’s a special place to be after a win, especially a big win.
“It’s also a place,” he adds, “where we have serious conversations about leadership, about being men for others.”
Ramblers senior guard Kevin Cunningham caught an eyeful of the room for the first time three years ago — after mounting the narrow and perilously steep staircase leading up to it.
He made the ascent without the aid of a Sherpa.
“They’re pretty intimidating at first,” Cunningham says of the steps. “But you’d get used to them if you had to climb them as often as we do. My first impression of the room was, ‘Wow this room is hidden from the rest of the world.’ I now think it’s the best room at Loyola Academy. There’s a lot of going on in there; it’s filled with Loyola boys basketball history and great memories.
“When I look around the room, I see a lot of positivity.”
What Ramblers see while going up and down the stairwell: signs, lots of signs, with reminders or inspirational messages.
IT’S A GREAT DAY TO TAKE A CHARGE
NO REBOUNDS, NO RINGS
“As a freshman, I wondered what was up there,” Ramblers senior guard Patrick Russell recalls. “What’s up there is very cool. The signs with the motivational stuff on the walls, along the stairs, get us pumped before games and after halftimes. It’s a great place to be on nights we win, because it’s where we sing our fight song.”
Pete Mangan, another Ramblers senior guard, calls the room — which could almost pass for an elevated man cave — “our little den.” He once slipped and fell near the bottom of the stairwell after a halftime but bounced right back up and immediately thought, “I’d bet at least a couple of other players experienced what I just experienced.”
Livatino’s take on the dicey path to the Rambler Room?
“I’ve been able to burn some calories walking up and down those stairs,” he says.
A trophy, the Jesuit Cup, rests on the Rambler Room’s conference table. It goes to the winner of the Loyola Academy-St. Ignatius College Prep boys basketball game each winter. Paul Pryma started coaching boys basketball at St. Ignatius in the late 1980s. He also served as the athletic director at Highland Park High School (1994-99), as the varsity boys basketball coach at Evanston Township High School (1999-2005) and as the principal at Glenbrook North (2005-14).
The same Paul Pryma is in his second season as an assistant coach on Livatino’s staff. The length of a power forward’s body separates Pryma from the Jesuit Cup in the Rambler Room on the night of the St. Francis-Loyola Academy game.
“So much about this room is about togetherness and brotherhood,” Pryma says. “Many of the charts on the walls in here, along with several of the messages, emphasize defense. I like that; I like a lot of things about this room.”
Luke Livatino makes an appearance in the Rambler Room. The youngster darts here, dashes there. You almost get the sense he has spent as much time in the room as has in his room at home.
Luke sprints toward the stairwell.
His father orders him to halt.
“Come here,” says Tom Livatino, whose other children (Sienna, 9, and Michael, 5) are also frequent Rambler Room visitors.
The son runs toward his father, still sitting on that comfortable couch under all of those photos of former LA standouts.
The father kisses his son on a cheek and gives him a quick hug.
The son turns and sprints toward the stairwell again.
“Other teams use this room,” Tom Livatino says. “It’s important to note that. Soccer, girls basketball, volleyball … players in those programs are allowed in here, too.
“It just looks like our team is the only team that uses it.”