It’s certainly been a trial by fire for new Waterloo School District Athletic Director Brian Unger.
“It has been interesting,” Unger said. “I have had to be very flexible, as it seems things have changed almost daily. It feels like every day there are new rules on what our athletes can and can’t do.”
Unger, 40, assumed his new role last month as the COVID-19 pandemic continued its crippling effect on most sporting events.
“Our coaches have been wonderful in coordinating with each other and making this work for all our two- and three-sport athletes,” Unger said. “I figure if I can survive this year, it will only get easier.”
Unger also credited Waterloo High School Principal Lori Costello and Assistant Principal Christy Osterhage for helping in the transition into his new role.
Unger was born and raised in Waterloo and graduated from Gibault Catholic High School, where he played three years of varsity baseball. A lefthanded pitcher, Unger helped lead the Hawks to their first state appearance in baseball.
He went on to pitch two years at Southwestern Illinois College before playing at NCAA Division I University of Hawaii at Hilo.
Unger finished his college career at Quincy University, after which he was hired as the school’s pitching coach and recruiting coordinator. He was eventually promoted to Quincy’s head baseball coach for three years.
“During my time at Quincy, I coached six players who later signed professional contracts,” Unger said.
Prior to becoming Waterloo’s athletic director, Unger taught first grade at Zahnow Elementary and coached sixth grade basketball, seventh grade baseball, and served as pitching coach for the Waterloo High School baseball squad.
“During my time with Waterloo baseball, I have helped many players go on to play college baseball and was part of the 2019 team that finished third at state,” he said.
Unger also coached with the Rawlings Tigers select team.
He and wife Jessica have two children, Rori, 12, and Carly, 8.
“Outside of coaching, I like to fish, watch Cardinals baseball and watch my daughters ride horses,” he said.
The passion for baseball runs deep in the Unger family. His older brother Craig is president and general manager of the Memphis Redbirds, who are the Triple-A affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals.
Unger said that time constraints and demands of the new position will keep him from being able to stay on as WHS pitching coach.
“My last game I coached was the third place game in state that we won,” Unger said. “That is a pretty good way to leave coaching. I am going to miss coaching and working with our athletes, but with this new position I will have a bigger influence over all our sports – not just over the baseball program.”
Unger said it’s frustrating not having kids at school this fall and the sports being restricted.
As for ideas and philosophies for Waterloo’s athletic programs, Unger said he and the coaching staff have come up with four character words they want student-athletes to exhibit: passionate, disciplined, competitive and dedicated.
“These four words will be infused in everything our athletes do, from practice, to games, to how they represent WHS in the community,” Unger said. “Our goal is to help our athletes grow, not only on the field or court, but more importantly as people.”
Unger also said one goal of his is to make the atmosphere at games more enjoyable for both athletes and fans.
“While many of our athletes go on to play in college, for many, this is the end of their athletic career,” he said. “I want to make it as memorable and enjoyable for them as possible.”
Unger also hopes to highlight the district’s athletes and coaches.
“We are very fortunate to have coaches and athletes that are as passionate, dedicated, disciplined and competitive as they are,” Unger said.
The district has started a Bulldog Beat newsletter to keep everyone informed on the latest in WHS athletics. It can be found online at wcusd5.net (click on Athletics).
Unger is also conducting interviews with past students to highlight the tradition and standout athletes that have come through Waterloo. Former WHS athletes willing to speak with Unger can do so by calling him at 618-939-3455.