Community building is a pillar of success for New Trier baseball coach Mike Napoleon.
When players, coaches, parents, family members and school officials are actively pulling in the same direction, the wins will add up.
So when on Thursday, April 27, the wins reached 951 — the most of any coach in Illinois high school baseball history — it was meaningful that past and present players, coaches, parents, family members and school officials were there to celebrate at Duke Childs Field in Winnetka.
“It’s a big mark and it just means I’ve been in the game a long time and the teams I’ve had have been successful,” said Napoleon, commonly known across Illinois baseball as Coach Naps. “That being said, you need a lot of support along with that, and I’ve had support from my family and the schools and I’ve been at, and you need good kids.”
New Trier players and coaches surround head coach Mike Napoleon (center, below poster) after he earned his record-breaking 951st win on Thursday, April 27, in Winnetka. | Photo Submitted
The kids had Napoleon’s back on April 27, when they toppled conference foe Glenbrook North 5-0 to give him the record-breaking win. Junior Justin Wood (8 strikeouts) pitched a three-hit shutout, and senior Brendan Stressler delivered a two-run home run.
Napoleon’s 951st victory surpassed the total of Dave Swisegood, former coach of Plymouth and Southeastern high schools in western Illinois until 2015. Napoleon’s record win total is now at 954 as of press time (Wednesday afternoon, May 3) as the Trevians pushed their record to 18-3 in their coach’s 39th season (27th at New Trier).
“It’s pretty incredible,” he said of reaching the wins record. “I didn’t go into (coaching) thinking this would ever happen. You just go about doing what you love to do and when it does happen, or you start to get close, my kids remind me and it just happened.”
A graduate of St. Patrick High School in Chicago and the University of Illinois, Napoleon got his first head coaching gig at Notre Dame College Prep in Niles. He spent seven seasons with the Dons (119 wins) before taking over at Providence Catholic in south suburban New Lenox, where he led Celtics baseball (139 wins) for five seasons.
He was inducted into the Illinois High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2000.
With New Trier baseball, prior to this season and excluding a year (2020) wiped out because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Napoleon has averaged a remarkable 27 wins per season. His Trevian teams have recorded 10 seasons with at least 30 wins and single-digit losses.
The 951 wins do not include the hundreds Napoleon collected in 20-plus years as coach of the Wilmette Waves, a summer team made of primarily of New Trier students but that is unaffiliated with the high school.
Under Napoleon, New Trier baseball has collected 14 Central Suburban League championships, 19 regional crowns, 10 sectional titles and five state trophies (top 4), including state championships in 2000 and 2009.
Coach Mike Napoleon pitches batting practice at the Trevians game April 24 at the home of the Chicago White Sox. | Photo by Rob Lange Photography
Assistant coaches Pete Drevline and Scott Klipowicz have been alongside Napoleon for 21 of his 27 New Trier seasons — or more than 500 victories. That type of assistant-coach longevity is rare and has been vital to the Trevians regular success, Napoleon said.
Drevline said that all the wins have been special, but in a Napoleon program, so are the losses.
“There is a lesson in every win and in every loss. The number is way over 1,000 in terms of messages for our players,” he said, adding, “(Napoleon) communicates well and has a lot of individual interactions with players. Getting to know them and building that relationship is really important to him. They are not just ballplayers, not just a number on their back; they are human beings he really connects with.”
Those interactions and the impact they made inspired Dusty Napoleon, coach Napoleon’s oldest son who also played for the varsity Trevians in 2003 and 2004.
There is no complicated answer for why Dusty Napoleon, a longtime assistant coach with Northwestern University baseball, got into coaching.
“It is directly because of my dad and the impact I saw he had on kids,” Dusty said. “I love the sport of baseball and grew up around it. It’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to have the same impact on young players.”
The relationships with players align with Mike Napoleon’s belief in community building. He hopes to earn the trust of his players, which will empower his coaching.
Same goes for parents, who Napoleon pushes to be contributors to the program’s activities, from road trips to team dinners.
As far as playing the game of baseball, Napoleon is old-school. He believes in preparation. He is one of the state’s innovators in offseason training, starting a one-day-a-week program at Notre Dame in the 1980s. Today, offseason workouts multiple times per week are the norm for teams across the state, including the Trevians.
“Attention to detail. That’s his motto,” Drevline said. “He tries not to take anything for granted, especially things that don’t show up in a box score. Hustle, accountability, work ethic.”
Coach Napoleon (center) coaching the Wilmette Waves summer team with his sons Dillon (left) and Dusty.
On the field, Napoleon stresses playing strong defense and, offensively, putting the ball in play, and playing the game the right way. He said he won’t hesitate to bench a player for disrespectful behavior or lack of effort.
With those things as a foundation, Dusty Napoleon said his dad gets players ready to succeed come game day.
“Practices are for the coaches and games for the players. He instills that (in the program),” Dusty said. “Some practices you go through are tough and challenging. Then it comes to game time and everyone is conditioned to have success.”
Throughout four decades of coaching, it is difficult for Napoleon to pick up a favorite moment. So he lists several, from the dominant champions in 2000 to the fourth-place 2017 team that built a long winning streak.
His favorite years, though, were the ones in which he coached his sons: Dusty in 2003 and 2004 and Dillon in 2007 and 2008. All four years the teams won 30 or more games.
“Those years really stick out because of how much fun it was to coach my own kids,” Napoleon said. “I told my wife (in 1996), ‘If I get this job at New Trier, we’re going to have to move into the district. … I don’t want someone screwing them up. I want to be the one screwing them up.’”
All the work has taken time. Time away from family and friends.
Mike Napoleon pointed out that he also coaches football and has long been the offensive coordinator for the Trevians. He is bragging — but not about himself.
Napoleon said his wife, Melanie, allows him to keep at it 40 years later and gives her much of the credit for his coaching successes, as well as the successes of everyone in the family.
Dusty Napoleon said that despite some time away from home, his dad always came through.
“He to sacrifice being away from family at times, but he’s always been a great dad and mentor,” Dusty said. “He deserves all these things.”
Sitting at 954 coaching victories, Mike Napoleon is on the cusp of a big round number: 1,000. Does he want to get there?
His cryptic answer leaves room for interpretation, but Napoleon only has one school year left as a teacher at New Trier. After that …
“I don’t know,” he said. “I think I’m going to be doing in baseball. I’m just not sure it’s going to be at New Trier. It’s not like I’m hiding anything. I really don’t know.
“My sons are like ’40-something more wins (to 1,000)’ and I said relax over there. One season at a time. The four-digit mark is pretty cool, though.”
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