The Leo High School Family is truly diminished and profoundly saddened by the loss of Bob Schablaske, a longtime teacher and coach at the school who died on Wednesday, Jan. 30. He was 64. According to Bob’s family, the cause of death was a heart attack.
“Coach Schab” was one of a kind, one of the people who made Leo what it is … and he didn’t even go here. He went to Brother Rice, of all places, graduating in 1972. But he became a Leo Man to his core as he taught social studies and coached basketball and baseball at Leo for 26 years. It’s no exaggeration to say he was beloved … by his students, his players, his colleagues, his friends.
“The best coach I ever played for,” said Jamal Thompson, Leo’s current coach.
“Schab was special—there’s no other way to put it,” said Noah Cannon, who played for and coached with him.
Bob was stricken while picking up a pizza at one of his favorite South Side eateries. He made it to Little Company of Mary Hospital, where he was revived once, but evidently he suffered a second attack while he was being treated and this time they couldn’t bring him back.
It must have been some massive attack if it stilled that heart.
Bob was a kind and gentle soul, but possessed of a fiercely competitive nature. Somehow he managed to balance those two sides of his personality and become a friend to all who knew him.
“One of the best ever, without question,” said Tracy Robinson, co-captain of Leo’s 2004 state championship team who is playing pro basketball in Chile after a standout career at Chicago Loyola.
Bob “retired” from Leo in 2015. He insisted on no fanfare—no party, no big sendoff—but he reluctantly agreed to go to lunch with a few of us. He implied that he was stepping aside for health reasons. A few months later he had a liver transplant, but it was typical of Schab not to tell us how sick he was. He came through the transplant OK, but the anti-rejection medication did a number on his kidneys, so the last few years had been rough for him.
But he refused to give in. He was helping coach basketball at Lincoln Way West and baseball at Hillcrest. He showed up at Leo events from time to time and was mobbed. He came by school just to say hello in October and was bright and cheerful as we all took pictures with him, but he didn’t look as good as he did the last time I’d seen him, when we went to a Cubs game the previous summer. Schab LOVED the Cubs.
Almost as much as he loved teaching, coaching and influencing kids. Schab never sought the limelight; he was perfectly content working at the lower levels, where the real teaching is done.
Still, he won more than 300 games as Leo’s sophomore basketball coach and won 19 and the Catholic League Red Division baseball title as recently as 2012. He seemed to have a special connection to the mid-’90s-era Leo guys—they all loved “Coach Schab.” He had tremendous respect among his Catholic League contemporaries as well—one of them told me he was the best coach in our building, in any sport.
Without question he was one of the best people.
The first weekend of February brought Leo great Andre Brown ’00 to town for his induction into the DePaul University Athletics Hall of Fame. Andre came to the Leo-Mount Carmel game at Carmel on Friday and, at the behest of Coach Thompson, his Leo teammate, he spoke to the Lions after their 87-67 victory.
Brown noted that he played Division I basketball, three seasons of NBA basketball and another 12 years of pro ball overseas after graduating from Leo, and in all that time, Coach Schab had as much or more influence on him as anybody—not just in basketball, but in life.
“I hope you all get an opportunity to play for a guy like Coach Schab,” Brown told the young Lions. “He was a great man.”
And in his own quiet way he made all of us better people.
Safe home, my friend.
Dan McGrath ’68, President
Leo High School
A wake for Coach Bob Schablaske was held at the Donnellan Funeral Home, 10525 S. Western, on Thursday, Feb. 7. A funeral mass was said at St. Barnabas Church, 10134 S. Longwood Drive, the next day. He was buried on Saturday, Feb. 9 in Pecatonica, Il., next to his mother.