The 2021-22 end-of-year Sports Awards Ceremony at Woodlands Academy of the Sacred Heart marked the end of an era by starting some new traditions. This happened during the commemoration of a faculty member who has inspired students to succeed as young women – on and off the fields and courts – for nearly a half-century.
Rosemary Briesch is retiring after tenures as a teacher, coach and athletic director at the all-girls college-prep high school in Lake Forest since 1973. During that time, she has been honored as Softball Coach of the Year nine times and Volleyball Coach of the Year four times by the Independent School League (ISL). In 2017, The Illinois Coaches Association honored Briesch as Class 1A Softball Sectional Coach of the Year. In December 2021, ISL athletic directors gathered at Woodlands Academy to provide special recognition of Briesch’s decades of service. Some of them characterized it as “trailblazing work” creating opportunities for girls and women in athletics that’s just as important now as it was when Briesch began her career.
And the accolades are not limited to her coaching roles. In 2019, Briesch received Woodland Academy’s Frances de la Chapelle Excellence in Teaching Award. The winner is chosen by a vote of the faculty and administration from among faculty members nominated by students.
Senior Abby Moravek, of Libertyville, is Woodlands Academy’s Athlete of the Year. She sees Briesch’s legacy as one of building an athletic program that helps empower young women to live by values that extend far beyond sports. “Her deep love for this community has created an environment where any student can emerge as a leader,” Moravek adds. “Nearly five decades of Woodlands Academy students have benefited from embracing the values she has championed.”
Briesch’s legacy will live on at Woodlands in ways that include the athletic department’s newly created Rosemary Briesch Award. Multi-sport athlete Lily Hinojosa, a senior from Wadsworth, is the first recipient of this award. It will be given annually to the senior athlete who best embodies the values held by Briesch. These include a consistent desire and effort to improve self and team while positively influencing teammates and coaches.
Another new tradition will honor Briesch’s legacy by presenting a rose to the captains of varsity sports teams in recognition of the respect each captain has earned from her teammates and coaches.
“Ms. Briesch is one of the last of her kind, who believes in hard work and dedication more than she cares about God-given talent. She believes that if you play with your heart and your head, you will be playing to win.” That’s the view of Julie Castellini, who knows Briesch as both a teacher and colleague. Castellini, a 2009 Woodlands Academy graduate, currently serves the school as assistant director of admissions.
“The fundamentals that she coached by were the values she lived by,” Castellini adds. “If you ask any athlete why she is so special, it is because she made us better women for tomorrow.”
Castellini reflects on how Briesch tutored her in volleyball, sometimes at the expense of eating lunch, because Castellini cared enough to keep trying to improve her skills. “Briesch was my coach for the rest of my high school career, and today she is my coach in life,” Castellini adds. “Today, as colleagues, she gives me the same respect as she did then, only reaffirming what I always knew about her. She is loyal to her core and honestly believes in young women in sports because the benefits of being on a team go well beyond physical fitness and athletics skills.”
For example, Briesch is of the opinion that team sports participation can provide a significant advantage in preparing girls for the business world. “I think it’s crucial that everybody today has the experience of working with other people for a common cause, and that closeness and teamwork and camaraderie that happens on a team is crucial to their experience in the business world,” she says.
This belief is backed by EY Research showing that 94 percent of women in the C-Suite today played sports. That research also shows that women athletes have a unique advantage by thriving on competition, determination and a strong work ethic when they enter the boardroom. And sports participation helps girls grow up healthy and confident, helps young female leaders rise, and helps C-suite leaders succeed.
Briesch pursued a career in education because – as a student – she loved school, her teachers and her coaches. She says her favorite teaching moments include witnessing a student have a “light bulb moment.” As a coach, she adds, such moments would include “seeing the athlete's excitement when she finally performs a skill that she and I worked so hard on for weeks, or months, or in some cases, years.”
One of the things she’s appreciated the most about Woodlands Academy for 48 years is its tight-knit sense of community. “Woodlands has been my home, literally and figuratively, for most of my life,” Briesch says. “And although I will be moving on, I know, as we tell our graduates when they walk out our doors, ‘You will always have a home at the Sacred Heart.’"
Before full retirement, Briesch stepped aside from her long tenures as coach and athletic director at the start of the 2021-22 school year. She continued in her other role of PE and health teacher for one more year. “When most alumnae reminisce about their time at Woodlands, I'll bet Briesch is one of their first and favorite memories,” current Athletic Director Mark Burke said during the awards ceremony. “Few individuals have left their mark on this or any other institution with such tremendous character and dedication as she has. There will always be a place for her here at Woodlands Academy.”
Burke then urged Briesch to visit often during her retirement. And when she does, he says, there will always be a reserved seat for her. The “Athletic Director’s” chair – a red director’s chair with Briesch’s name on it – was presented to her by the Woodlands Academy Athletic Department. It will be kept in Burke’s office ready for use anytime Briesch returns to the place where her impact on countless athletes and non-athletes alike is, in Burke’s view, truly valued and never will be forgotten.