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The Forest Scout

The Student News Site of Lake Forest High School

The Forest Scout

The Student News Site of Lake Forest High School

The Forest Scout

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Baseball’s New Head Coach: Mr. Michael Nilles

Photo+Courtesy+of+Luke+Cheng.
Photo Courtesy of Luke Cheng.

After the 2023 baseball season, former Head Coach Mr. Ray Del Fava stepped down from coaching varsity baseball after 27 years. After a search, the program made former Assistant Coach Mr. Michael Nilles, the team’s new head coach. 

Nilles, a Mundelein High School Alumnus, played baseball for the Mustangs and later played college baseball at Indiana University as an infielder. He continues his passion for baseball today through coaching.

After finishing college, Nilles returned to the northern suburbs working for Coyote Logistics, but after a few years, he returned to the sport that he loved. 

Nilles was involved with LFHS baseball f 10 years ago.

In the winter of 2011, I decided to see if any high schools were hiring baseball coaches and, lucky for me, LFHS was looking for a freshman baseball coach. I met with Mr. Burkhalter and Coach Del Fava and knew right away this was the program I wanted to be part of,” Nilles said.

Following two years of coaching LFHS baseball, he returned to school to get his teaching license. Today, he teaches fifth grade at Lake Bluff Elementary School. 

Nilles has an impressive amount of coaching experience since he began in 2011. Nilles has a strong resumé in coaching baseball through his time at Slammers Illinois, Lake Bluff Baseball, Lake Forest Feeder Baseball, Lake Forest American Legion, and Lake Forest High School. 

Nilles also has experience coaching other levels and sports, including Lake Forest Feeder Basketball, Lake Bluff Middle School Field Hockey, and Lake Bluff Middle School Girls Basketball. Many have been lucky enough to have Nilles as a coach. 

Nilles made a return to LFHS Baseball in 2019. He coached JV Baseball for one season, and was set to be a Varsity Assistant Coach in the 2020 season. However, the season was canceled due to COVID, so he began his role as an Assistant Coach in 2021.

Nearly 13 years ago, Nilles knew he wanted to lead the Scouts one day.

 “Becoming the head coach at LFHS probably started back in 2011 when I had my first conversations with Mr. Burkhalter and Coach Del Fava. After hearing their passion for coaching and love for baseball, I knew from that moment that not only was this a program that I wanted to be part of, but also one day be the head of,” Nilles said

During his time as an Assistant Coach, he says he gained a lot of valuable knowledge and experience. 

“I learned so much from Coach Del Fava over the last three years. And not just baseball knowledge, but also how to run a successful program behind the scenes. There is a lot more that goes into being a Head Varsity coach that I had no idea about,” he said. “Last season, Coach Del Fava would drop hints to me about taking over the program, most of which went over my head.” 

Following the 2023 baseball season, Del Fava retired from coaching at the varsity level, and Athletic Director Tim Burkhalter was forced to find a replacement. It was on Aug. 19, 2023, Nilles received a call from Burkhalter, asking if he would accept the position of Varsity Head Coach. Nilles accepted the offer, and was ready to start his tenure as the new coach.

It was a surreal moment that I’ll never forget,” he said. 

As the new Head Coach, Nilles has already made changes by implementing open gyms during the winter months for current high school players. Nilles also plans to be involved with the younger players so they are ready to play when they reach high school.

 “I’ve been attending a lot of youth baseball practices and clinics so I can get to know the kids and show them that I care about their development. I want to build their love for baseball so when their time comes, they are ready to take control of the conference, the county, and the state,” Nilles said. 

Photo courtesy of Michael Nilles.

Nilles has many goals and dreams for the LFHS baseball program. His biggest, a renovation of the Varsity Baseball field.

“The condition our field is in ranks it one of the lowest in the Chicagoland area and I believe kids see that and are turned off. I would love to replace the playing surface with turf, similar to what they did at the Deerpath Fields,” said Nilles. “I’d like to rotate the field so that home plate is closer to the parking lot, similar to what they did with Rosenthal Field in Lake Bluff. This would eliminate all the lost foul balls we experience every season as well as reduce the noise distraction from the rail line.”

Many baseball players are excited for Nilles to take the lead role as Head Coach for the LFHS Baseball Team. 

Returning junior Bink Hartline has had a relationship with Nilles since elementary school.

“Both last year and when I was younger I learned so much from him and I’m so excited to see how much more I will get to learn from him. From the last year that I have had Coach Nilles, I can see how passionate and excited he is to be the head of the program which has made me and all my teammates very excited to see what we can do this upcoming season,” Hartline said. 

Other players share this excitement.

“I am excited to have him as our new coach because of the way he treats us. He understands the balance between funny and serious baseball, and is also someone we really look up to and respect,” senior and NIU commit Luca Royer said. “I also think he is great because of the awareness he spreads to the sport and his dedication to doing anything he can to help us and the program,”

Junior Ryan Valentincic was called up to the varsity team midway through the 2023 spring season and looks up to Nilles as well.

“He’s super relaxed, but also holds us to a high standard which pushes me to be the best player I can be. I learned a lot from him in the short time I was with him last year, and I think I’ll learn a lot more now that he’ll be my coach for the whole year,” Valentincic said. 

Nilles faces some pressure as a first year head coach. However, Nilles is very optimistic about the returning players. 

We’re bringing back six starting position players who contributed in a large way last season. We have extremely talented young arms that have experience pitching in big varsity games,” he said.

Nilles also trusts players who haven’t yet made the varsity jump. 

“By the effort I’ve seen during the off-season open gyms, I know the guys are ready to step up and earn some spots,” Nilles said. 

A new era is beginning in Lake Forest Baseball. Members of the baseball and LFHS community are excited to watch the Scouts this spring under their new leadership. The Scouts will take the field for the first time on March 14, against Grayslake North at Lake Forest Varsity Field. 

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Boden Rupprecht, Staff Writer
Junior Boden Rupprecht plays for the Boys Varsity Soccer team. Outside of school, he enjoy being with friends and family, exercising, and watching sports. 
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  • M

    MeFeb 15, 2024 at 1:13 pm

    He was my teacher in fifth grade.
    congratulations

    Reply