Matt Rodewald has returned to his roots, in more ways than one.
Rodewald is an Emmy Award-winning reporter and anchor and part of IHSA state broadcasts since 2011. Before all that, though, the 41-year-old father of two was a three-sport athlete at Geneva High School who worked as a volunteer assistant at his alma mater before embarking on his journalism career.
He always kept coaching in the back of his mind, and the time for a career move – and move home – came last year while working for FOX-10 in Phoenix. Reporting on the 50,000 Arizona Teachers Walkout by day, Rodewald went back to school at Grand Canyon University to get his masters in secondary education, and moved his family back to Illinois in July 2020 after four years in the desert.
One year later, Rodewald has come aboard at Yorkville as head boys track coach, sophomore boys basketball coach and business teacher.
“I wanted to get my kids back to Illinois and I thought this is the perfect time for everybody,” Rodewald said. “I have two kids, where do you want to be at 11 p.m. at night – at a live TV shot in front of a murder scene or at a JV basketball game? Those are the things I had to resolve with myself. It just made too much sense.”
Rodewald is back living in Geneva, six blocks from the house he grew up in. It’s the same neighborhood, and in many respects Yorkville feels like he’s home, too. Rodewald looks forward to establishing community roots not possible in Phoenix with a concrete wall around the yard.
“Trees deserve soil, and the roots just weren’t as deep there; here it’s different,” Rodewald said. “One great thing about Yorkville is they are going through what I grew up at Geneva with, a growth and enrollment explosion, of asking what kind of school they are, understanding their identity as a Class 4A school. That’s something I can help with as a basketball and track coach.”
A hurdler in high school at Geneva before getting a degree at Indiana University in journalism with a business minor, Rodewald worked at WTVO-TV in Rockford from 2013-2016, and also spent time at WMAQ-TV in Chicago. He’s worked IHSA state games for basketball, football, and boys volleyball, and just did girls soccer last month.
Phoenix, the first time in Rodewald’s life he worked just one job, afforded him an opportunity to think about his future. A fire was lit that he was compelled to follow. After getting his teacher’s certificate Rodewald threw in applications and had seven schools call, Yorkville being the first.
“I’m proud of what I accomplished in the media,” Rodewald said. “I don’t have any regrets with what I was able to accomplish. It just felt like the tide was changing in the newsroom.”
Rodewald has already had a whirlwind of a first year back in Illinois during the pandemic.
He helped coach three different sports at three different schools over three months, basketball at Hinckley-Big Rock, football at DeKalb and track at Crystal Lake South, learning three sets of names with masks on.
“I went from summer league basketball game on a Tuesday in June to a track sectional at Huntley the next day; we’ve all had our weirdness with COVID,” Rodewald said. “I give the coaches I’ve been around a ton of credit; they’ve all been wonderful mentors.”
Rodewald looks forward to being the same at Yorkville.
“As a hurdler at Geneva I wasn’t all that great in terms of talent but I made up for it with a ton of efficiency and the best fundamental instruction. That’s how I was able to compete,” Rodewald said. “I didn’t win anything but I was right in the mix because of that and I thought ‘You know what, I can teach that.’”
Rodewald has big designs for a Yorkville program that already has a strong tradition he’s aware of.
He aims to turn Yorkville’s Matt Wulff Invitational in April into an early statewide meet, more or less a state preview. He wants the road to the state meet in Charleston to go through a sectional at Yorkville. He wants all of his athletes to know their roles and to know they all have a place in the team culture.
And, after the last year, Rodewald looks forward to his athletes just being back together.
“These kids are starving for social interaction and the best part of track is if you get both genders involved, cheer everybody on and bring that football and basketball intensity you can have that same energy,” Rodewald said. “These track kids got that feeling back after 2020 was canceled and they have a thirst for more. I look forward to harnessing that energy to create that culture of competition.”