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ILLINOIS HAWKS - FROM HUMBLE BEGINNINGS TO MIDWEST POWERHOUSE

02-12-2019
Blog Post by Just1Mom
 
If you live in Shorewood, Illinois or the surrounding areas, you have heard great things coming from the Illinois Hawks organization. Not only do they have a booming baseball program, but they also have an expansive softball program! This organization has earned a solid reputation that players are coming from beyond the Shorewood area to be a part of it.  They have gathered a host of talented players from Joliet, Plainfield, Minooka, Channahon, New Lenox, Romeoville, as well as Naperville. They have had kids as far as Crown Point, Indiana, Streator, Illinois and beyond. For kids to travel that far for a sport means they are traveling for a good reason. 
 
It’s no wonder they were recently given this endorsement by Prep Baseball Report:  “Your organization has been identified as one of the top travel programs in the Midwest. Through our vast collection of scouts across all Midwest states, you are featured as one of the top 32 of the top travel programs from around the Midwest." - Prep Baseball Report
 
 
 Let me tell you why this program has earned such a glowing endorsement within 4 short years. 
 
Inception: -I love to hear about the beginnings of a successful baseball program. John Airola shared how the program began, “The Illinois Hawks Baseball Association was created in fall of 2015. The Hawks started when two teams came together by chance as a result of another organization that was found to be misappropriating team funds.  Being there was a strong nucleus; it was decided to create an organization that would do right by our families with a focus on training and development.  Our goal was to give kids the opportunity to develop and learn at the youth age levels and for high school kids to have an opportunity to play at the next level. When we started, we had one team in mind but were quickly approached by other families who had heard of what we were creating.  By September of 2015, we had 6 teams to compete in our first season.” This is a testament to any small program to hear how a couple of teams can rise above something that could have easily ended their team.   
 
 
Growth: -To expand to 6 teams in one season is impressive, but that was just the start of a huge jump for this organization. They planted the seeds to their future growth in just a few years. In 2017, the Hawks were approached by the Illinois Edge about merging their two organizations.  They completed that merger with the Edge, effectively adding an additional 4 teams from the Edge. By the end of September 2018, the Hawks have grown to 30 teams in total; 21 baseball teams from 9u-18u and 9 softball teams from 10u-18u. Teams range in size from 12-16 players depending on the age group. Bringing together these two major organizations was a game changer. The Illinois Hawks currently have over 400 kids in their baseball and softball programs.    
 
Player Development: -Players train at Legacy Athletics in Shorewood, Illinois. Legacy Athletics is a 32,000 square foot facility with two fields that are 120 x 50. It also has 14 cages ranging from 50 to 70 feet; some with mounds. Ben Hewett elaborated, “Our facility is open 7 days a week which provides our athletes the opportunity to improve their skills and overall fitness.  Our pricing is the most competitive in the area when compared to other well recognized programs.  Further, with our key contributors, we have contacts for colleges that span across the United States, while offering more tools than most organizations around. The Hawks have the newest technology used by MLB and collegiate schools, have trainers Monday through Friday to focus on speed, strength and agility, have specialization training to enhance individual skills, as well as more practice hours throughout the week for team practices than most organizations (4 or more hours a week). We also have a strong network of colleges in softball and baseball that help our players truly advance to the next level. In our years of existence, we have had over 115 college commitments ranging from Division 1 to highly recognized Junior Colleges.” 
 
  
 
When it comes to training, Illinois Hawks teams typically train September through April. October-December teams begin specialization training within their respective positions. Most of their teams play a light fall schedule and then begin practice first week of January before they head into their respective high school seasons and youth seasons. The younger teams start playing games around early spring while the high school teams start around first or second week of June and play through July. 
 
Tryouts: -Typically the Illinois Hawks hold tryouts twice a year with the availability of private tryouts in July and beyond. If a kid tries out and doesn’t make it, the coach will explain where they can improve and offer suggestions as to where they may be able to play. They feel it is very important to provide constructive criticism to better their game. 
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Board Members & Key Coaches: -The quality of leaders, coaches and training staff really makes an organization one that will grow or one that will flail in the long run. Illinois Hawks Board Members consist of:  

Ben Hewett: President, Kelly Ash: Vice President, John Airola: Treasurer, Dave Crowder: Player Development/ Travel, Tommy Knapcyk: Player Development, Matt Shepardson: Website Development, and Jeff Dexter: Website Development.
The list of key coaches and trainers along with their wealth of experience is a major factor in the Illinois Hawks yearly growth. Please see a complete list of the Hawks instructors at the end of this article. 
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Fees: -The big question for families is always about money. The Hawks fees are actually highly competitive. I was very impressed with how much bang you get for your buck. This year’s fees range by age structure from $1,850-$2,300. I asked Mr. Hewett if teams do fundraising. He said, “We allow all of our teams to do separate fundraising to offset those fees as they deem necessary.  There are no hidden costs and the fees cover all expenses: training, coaching, facility use, uniforms, tournaments and equipment.” 
 
Community Service: -The Illinois Hawks also believe as an organization in community service. They encourage teams to introduce some community service to their players.  This past year, many of their teams performed various community service, including volunteering at various shelters along with charitable acts such as food and clothing drives.
 
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The Next Level and Collegiate Recruiting: -How are things going for the Illinois Hawks players after high school? Ben Hewett said, “Our philosophy is simple - Illinois Hawks Baseball/Lady Hawks Softball strives to provide the premier travel organization in Southwest Suburban Chicago and beyond. With a focus on developing the whole athlete, the Hawks offer a complete competitive travel baseball experience for select players ages 8U-18U. We are excited to enter a new era of growth and excellence and our goal is to develop all our athletes and give them the greatest chance to exceed at the high level with opportunities beyond high school. In only 4 years we have 115 college commitments.”  
 
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Mission: -With the growth the Illinois Hawks has experienced in the last 4 years, I had to wonder what lies ahead for this dedicated bunch. Mr. Hewett said, “We would like people to know that our overall mission and focus has and will always be the athletes that train and play for us.  We work hard as an organization to keep our prices as low as possible to make our program as affordable for families as possible but still provide a superior experience.  We truly care for all our players in their development, advancement, and in their lives for the present and future. The Hawks create a family environment that combines development as well as winning and advancement in life in sports as well as business opportunities such as internships, coaching opportunities and facility jobs. We try to take care of all of our players in every way possible while motivating our athletes as well as offering them more flexibility and tools than most organizations. We are very excited about the direction we are going as a program. We created Elite/Top level teams this year in baseball and our goal is to continue creating competitive teams top to bottom. We are also going to begin the same process with softball in the near future to start bringing in quality talent yearly. We are excited to continue to improve upon what we offer, be it training, technology, more credentialed trainers and coaches; we truly are excited about our organization’s future.”  To learn more about the Illinois Hawks: http://ilhawks.org
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I always enjoy hearing about the path a large organization takes to get to be among the best of the best. Each story is unique and this one is one of my favorites. The Hawks truly put the right foot forward with a few good people who had the kid’s best interests at heart and they never stopped. The fact that they have a growing club that includes the Lady Hawks is tremendous! The other thing that they have been able to accomplish so well is keeping their fees reasonable and giving their players a lot for their money. But the very best part is how many kids have been placed in college programs in just a few years! That is the topper for me. Who could ask for anything more? Keep soaring high Hawks!
 
By: Just1Mom

Illinois Hawks Key Instructors
 
Baseball

Ben Hewett: Former Collegiate Baseball Player at Rollins College. Former Professional Baseball player (2011 Frontier League Champion), Former Collegiate Baseball coach (4 years at University of St. Francis), and now head coach of Plainfield North Varsity Softball. State Runner up at Plainfield North Varsity Softball 2018 as Assistant. 
 
Tommy Knapcyk: Player Development. Played at Lewis University and North Central College. Head Coach at Troy Middle School for 9 years, won 3A State Championship in 2010 and Runner Up in 2012.
 
Dave Crowder: Player Development. Former Collegiate Player at D1 Nicholls State University. 3 years Asst. Coach at Nicholls State. Assistant Coach Anchorage Glacier Pilots collegiate summer league, Head Coach San Bernardino Indians Collegiate summer league, 9 year Owner of Edge Sports Performance Academy. 
 
Kelly Ash: Player Development, Former Head Coach at Plainfield North Varsity Softball, Head Coach at Plainfield South Varsity Softball
 
Tony Sanchez: Former Collegiate Baseball Player at Heartland Community College, North Central College and Chicago State. Former Professional Baseball player (Joliet Slammers) and Assistant at Plainfield South HS. 
 
Nick Herrera: Plainfield South JV Head Coach. Former collegiate player at John A. Logan and Elmhurst College. All Conference at John A. Logan, All Conference and All region at Elmurst.
 
Tony Folino: Hitting coach at Plainfield South High School. 
 
Ethan Johnson: Head Coach of Freshman at Plainfield North High School. Former Collegiate Player at Joliet Junior College.
 
Chet Lines: Assistant AD at Plainfield South, Baseball Coaches Association National Assistant Coach of the Year Midwest Region 2016. 2016 IHSBCA State Champions. 2018 IHSBCA State Champions. 
 
Devon Rager: Former Collegiate Baseball Player at Iowa Wesleyan
 
Jerred Delgado: 15 year Assistant College Coach at University of St. Francis
 
Phil Bodine: Former Division 1 Pitcher at UIC, Hall of Fame High School Coach at Plainfield South. 
 
John Darlington: Former Division 1 Pitcher at Indiana State, State Championship Head coach 2018 Plainfield North. 
 
Ryan Billo: Former Division 1 Pitcher at University of Evansville and Head Freshman Coach at Plainfield South HS. 
 
Jake Mahy: Former Collegiate Baseball Player at University of St Francis/ Assistant at Lincoln Way West Softball. 

Softball
 
Ben Hewett: Head Coach of Plainfield North Varsity Softball, State Runner up 2018 as Assistant.
 
Kelly Ash:  Head Coach of Plainfield South Varsity Softball, State Runner up 2018 at Plainfield North. 
 
Dan Davidenko, Jim Rock and Nick Morgan: Over 5 Years of softball coaching within the community each. 
 
Mario Hernandez: Former Collegiate Baseball player (University of St. Francis) and assistant at Plainfield North Varsity Softball. 
 
Amanda Wilson: Former collegiate Pitcher at Florida Atlantic University and Providence Catholic Graduate. Pitching Coach at Plainfield North Varsity Softball
 
Lexie Siwek: Freshman at Indiana State/ Assistant softball coach. 
 
Greta Thompson: Freshman at Wisconsin Green Bay, Pitcher of the Year in SPC 2018/Assistant Coach.
 
Kaelin Callow: Freshman at Hope College/ Assistant Coach. 
 
Key Trainers
 
Ben Hewett: Baseball and Softball- Hitting, Fielding and Catching 
Tony Sanchez: Baseball and Softball -Hitting and Catching
Amanda Wilson: Softball- Pitching 
Kelly Ash: Baseball- Pitching
Mario Hernandez: Baseball and Softball- Hitting, Fielding and Catching
Tommy Knapcyk: Hitting and Fielding 
Ryan Billo: Pitching
Dave Crowder: Hitting and Fielding
Tony Folino: Training coordinator/Hitting

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