Former Gymnastics Coach and Athletics Administrator Calls it a Career

GO HUSKIES Bobbie Cesarek
Bobbie Cesarek

May 14, 2010

By Brett McWethy, NIU Athletics Media Relations

Bobbie Cesarek didn't realize how special the 1991 Northern Illinois Gymnastics season was until long after the conclusion of the campaign, when she finally took some time to sit down and sift through her scrapbooks.

During that season, Cesarek, who coached the Huskie women's gymnastics team from 1977-99, led NIU to a near perfect 22-1 record, and a fifth-place finish in the NCAA Central Regionals, the school's first trip to the event as a team.

"I often wish I had been a journler, because I saw so much over those 22 competition seasons," Cesarek said. "But I was so caught up in trying to do better the next year, that not until much later do you look back at the process and say `Wow, it would have been really neat to see what I was thinking during each of those years.'

"One thing I did do every year was keep a scrapbook, so I have all the newspaper articles that were written each year by the Sports Information office, and the Northern Star. What I didn't realize until I read through that year's book was that I only had eight girls on that 1991 team. But those eight were extremely talented, they were winners, and they were great competitors. I can remember them being absolutely livid when we lost on the road to Southeast Missouri, our only loss that season.

"They were a special group of kids. I nominated that team for the NIU Athletics Hall of Fame last year, and will keep nominating them until they get in, because they certainly deserve that level of recognition."

Cesarek, who has been a fixture in the Huskie Athletics family for 33 years, will retire from her current post as Associate Athletics Director, effective May 31. After stepping down as gymnastics coach following the 1999 season, Cesarek transitioned into an administrative role, eventually taking over NIU's compliance department in 2000.

When Cesarek assumed the role as head coach, it was during a major transition period for women's sports in college athletics, shortly after the inception of Title IX. Passed in 1972 as a result of combining acts VI and VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title IX states that, "No person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color or national origin, be excluded from, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.

"I was certainly able to see the transition of women's athletics, starting in 1977, when, under the auspices of the Physical Education Department, I coached gymnastics and golf, and taught seven classes per semester," said Cesarek, who also earned her doctorate degree from NIU. "Then, we transitioned into an independent women's athletics program offering athletics scholarships, adding assistant coaches, and eventually, more sports. It was a wonderful time to be in the coaching world, where that type of transition was happening; we were able to make a significant impact in the lives of our women student-athletes."

That impact is one that has transformed intercollegiate athletics, and still resonates to this day.

"The opportunities it [Title IX] has provided are wonderful," Cesarek said. "Women have embraced it; not to the numbers that men have, but that's okay. When I was young, I was involved in individual sports. I practiced with the boys' golf team in high school because we didn't have a girls' team, and could beat a good number of them. But I wasn't allowed to compete. That's no longer the case. Title IX has given women the opportunity to feel more confident, stronger and better about themselves through their athletic participation. That's fabulous."

As the Huskies' mentor, Cesarek coached four individual Mid-American Conference champions, six NCAA Regional participants, and led two teams to regional berths, including that memorable team in 1991. While her coaching career ended more than a decade ago, she remains actively involved in the NCAA Women's Gymnastics community.

In 1998, the same season that NIU re-joined the MAC, Cesarek was named the president of the National Association of Collegiate Gymnastics Coaches for Women (NACGC/W), where she, among many other things, led round-table discussions of issues pertaining to the promotion of the sport and its competition.

She has also worked with the USA Gymnastics organization, conducted numerous clinics through the NCAA and has been the Scoring Coordinator at the past six NCAA National Women's Gymnastics Championships. While her time with NIU Athletics may be coming to a close, Cesarek has made her intentions to remain actively involved in NCAA Gymnastics clear.

In fact, after her recent stint at the 2010 NCAA Championships in Gainesville, Fla., Cesarek was welcomed back to DeKalb with a telephone call directly from the NACGC/W convention, informing her that she had once again been elected as their president.

"It's an exciting opportunity," said Cesarek. "I think it's going to be a good fit; they were looking for someone who was familiar with the sport, but who also had a compliance background. I'm excited to see the best gymnasts compete, and the best teams be successful. The sport has its uniqueness, and being involved with it makes me feel at home."

Outside of gymnastics and athletics, home will continue to be in DeKalb for Cesarek, her husband Lou, and 24-year daughter Nikki, who will be getting married on June 19th. For the Cesarek's, that's just fine. After all, NIU and the surrounding community have helped Bobbie and her family feel at home for more than three decades.

"It's been such a wonderful place to raise a family, and to work," Cesarek said. "I've been very, very fortunate to have the ability within my job, outside of budget constraints, to sort of have carte blanche with my teams and with the compliance program. I appreciated very much the confidence that everybody gave me to be able to take both programs as far as I could. The athletics administration has been very supportive.

"The campus and community have been great, as well. I felt their support even from a younger age, when I was a part of NIU's initial Supportive Professional Staff Council (SPSC) and the president of the DeKalb Professional Business Women's Organization. In the 1980's, we'd have over 1,000 people at our gymnastics meets because people around town knew me, and knew the program. My friends came out to see our gymnasts and got to know them; they would then bring their kids and grandkids to the meets. It was a real family atmosphere, and we had a great run; we really did."

Cesarek's service to the SPSC organization has not gone unnoticed as her career at NIU winds down. With her retirement, she will also conclude her four-year term as the council president, having previously served a two-year term as vice-president. Earlier this month, she received the SPS Presidential Award for Excellence, and was honored at a reception at the Holmes Student Center.

As for retirement plans, Cesarek has already began preparing for possible opportunities that lie ahead. Still an avid golfer, some extra time on the links will certainly be in the cards.

"Well, we're going to get through the wedding first, and then we'll take a closer look," she said. "I want to play a lot of golf, and I'm also re-doing our house. I promised myself after I got my last degree that I would try to re-vamp our outdated décor before the wedding. I've been having a great time stripping wallpaper, painting and rebuilding closets. I am seeking some further employment but I'm not sure exactly what that will be as yet. My goal is to find a new and different challenge."

Cesarek added that Lou's plan is to officially declare his retirement in five years; the couple then intends to take a year and a half to travel the country via motor coach.

"There are a lot of places we want to visit and have the opportunity to see," said Cesarek. "Fortunately, I have former gymnasts all across the country, so we'll be making numerous stops to visit some great friends along the way."

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