Andrew Root approaches his job as Sterling High School assistant athletic director the same way he’s approached everything else in his life: help out others, do what needs to be done, and don’t seek any notoriety.
But like in everything else, Root’s abilities and attitude still catch the appreciative eye of everyone he knows.
“He’s not really motivated by money or recognition, it’s more of an intrinsic motivation to do what’s right and help others when needed, Sterling athletic director Tyler Jakse said. “He’s really the heartbeat of the athletic department and does so many things behind the scenes.
“His commitment really stands out. He never really complains or asks why; whatever job it is, he just does it. No matter if it’s taking down a tent or restocking the concession stand or doing something that might be out of his job description, he’s always willing to answer the call.
“He’s invaluable to the Sterling High School community,” Jakse said, “and the community knows it, and the coaches absolutely know it; they’re all aware of what he does for this school and the kids. Everyone who knows him and spends time around Sterling High School is aware that he is the driving force that has helped Sterling athletics be such a great brand.”
Not that you’ll hear any of that from Root. Never one to talk himself up, the humble Root goes about his job with quiet efficiency and dedication. It’s just the way he is, and he’s been that way for his entire life. Most of it stems from being part of a military family, and he credits his own time in the Air Force with helping mold him into who he is.
“My dad was Army; my middle brother, Jason, was Army; my oldest brother, Adam, was Air Force. So I kind of evened it out, Air Force-wise,” Root said. “My oldest brother when he was in [the service] always told me the Air Force always had the nicest facilities out of each branch. I’ll never talk negative about any branch; they’re all good, and they all have their own way. The Air Force is also the hardest branch to get into, so it was a challenge.
“The military is definitely not for everybody. It takes a certain type of person to be able do it. Not everybody does it or can do it. But it helped shape me into who I am. I’m glad I went into it.”
Root graduated from Newman in 2002, and a year later, he was in basic training. He played basketball, golf and tennis for the Comets, then took a semester of classes at Sauk Valley Community College but enlisted instead of returning for a second semester. He left for basic training in May 2003.
He served for 13½ years in the Air Force as a member of the Security Forces, which provide security for bases at home and abroad. He was stationed at RAF Mildenhall in England for two years then returned to the U.S. to serve at Offutt AFB in Nebraska for seven years.
He spent his final four years stationed at Malmstrom AFB, a missile base in Montana, before leaving in May 2016 via medical separation.
“I had to have reconstructive ankle ligament surgery from all the years of playing basketball in school, and I was actually on the Mildenhall base basketball team, and we traveled all over Europe playing other base teams. It was awesome,” Root said. “Then, my ankle got worse from just the ground and pound of the Air Force. Because of it, I couldn’t complete a complete physical fitness test over one consecutive year without being on a waiver, so I was medically discharged.”
Root returned to Sterling to be closer to his oldest son, Brady, who lives with his mom and is a senior at Rock Falls High School. Root’s chasing around younger kids these days, too. He and wife Justine have a daughter, Macinzee, 10, and a son, Maximus, 1, named after Andrew’s grandfather Max Johnson, who also served in the Air Force.
Family always has been at the center of Root’s world. His father, Tom, was getting ready to finish his service while Root was in high school. After 9/11, Tom Root was deployed to Germany and ended up going to Iraq.
With his older brothers also serving, it was a natural progression for Andrew Root, even if it was hard at times for his mother, Maria Duis, having so many loved ones in the military.
He said growing up around the military helped his understanding of the flexibility required in a military lifestyle, as well as taught him discipline and dedication from a young age.
“The military was kind of a smooth transition for me,” Root said. “Just the discipline, like the ‘yes, sir,’ ‘no, sir,’ ‘yes, ma’am,’ ‘no ma’am.’ I’m big on that, and I’m trying to help instill it in the kids nowadays to use that. Just the structure – I felt like I was pretty structured to begin with before I went in. I think it helped a lot with my organizational skills, especially in this job now with all the moving parts. You’ve got to have that ability.”
Root enjoyed his time in the Air Force and was proud of being part of the branch’s Security Forces. His original enlistment was for six years, and he was ready to leave but got offered a job as part of the Security Forces that made him rethink that and stay on.
“I was basically a cop, but when you’re deployed, Security Forces in the Air Force are the infantry, basically. We’re the base’s front line of defense,” he said. “Then they have a special duty there for cops doing flyaway security on a 747 that’s very similar to Air Force One – not as luxurious, but they offered me that job, and I re-upped for four more years. Then I thought, ‘Well, I’m halfway there, I might as well finish out to 20 [to get to retirement and pension].’
“It was great flying for three years. I went to over 40 countries, flew a lot. That aircraft was the Secretary of Defense’s primary means of transportation overseas. I did presidential support missions with that, FEMA missions. The best job as a cop is that detail. I loved it. It was fun, and I enjoyed it.”
Root also speaks fondly of those he served with. He said that’s the biggest benefit of serving: the lifelong relationships that he developed.
“I am still very close with my Air Force brothers. That was one of the things I’ve taken away from my time in the Air Force was the camaraderie. It’s a brotherhood, sisterhood, whatever you want to call it,” he said. “What people don’t understand is that as a veteran, we basically signed a blank check to our country, so it’s good to have that support system. I do have a lot of ties to the people that I served with. I’ll check in with them every once in a while; I don’t talk to them as much as I probably should, but it’s always there. That’s the great thing, is they’re always there to reach out to.”
One of his jobs, among the many at SHS, is serving as PA announcer from time to time. When he does, he always says a brief bit about honoring the soldiers at home and abroad, active duty or retired, before the playing of the national anthem.
“It was kind of my idea to read that before every match. I got it from Jim Nantz. I think it was last year’s NCAA Final Four, and that was part of his script that he said before the game. It kind of always stuck with me,” Root said. “I don’t say it or do any of it for my own recognition. But it’s nice for veterans to be recognized every once in a while, and it’s always appreciated by them.”
He always appreciates it, too, even if he does feel awkward sometimes when people approach him and thank him for serving in the military.
“Somebody comes up to you on Veterans Day or any day and says, ‘Thank you for your service,’ and I don’t know how to respond to that,” he said. “I appreciate it, but I didn’t do it for that. I just say thank you and go on. It’s nice, and it’s definitely appreciated.”
Same goes for his job. He was hired in the SHS maintenance department in September 2016 and became the assistant athletic director in December 2017.
Jakse was hired as AD in fall 2021 and said Root has been an important part of his growing into the role.
“I came in with zero experience as an athletic director. I was a teacher and a coach, and he really helped provide support and leadership in a role where it was uncharted waters for me,” Jakse said. “If I didn’t have him alongside working with me, especially the first few years as I was learning how to do this job, I would not have had near the impact that I was able to have coming in here. I could not have asked for someone more dedicated and reliable. He’s not one to talk himself up, but he’s always there to do what needs to be done.”
Jakse recalls one instance of bus trouble on a winter night, and Root was there to answer the call.
“Last year, I remember there was a time when it was negative 10 degrees and snowing like crazy, and a coach called from Dixon and said the bus wasn’t working,” Jakse said. “Drew hopped in his truck and drove out there on a Saturday night to help out. I don’t think you’re going to find a lot of people in his position that would be willing to do that.
“He always says this phrase, ‘One team, one fight,’ and it’s a great phrase for not only a school setting and from a leadership perspective but also in the military. It definitely takes a team to accomplish what we do, and in a school setting or the military, you can’t do it alone.”
Root said he loves his job and enjoys being back in his hometown.
“It’s a fun job,” Root said. “I love it. We work really well together. It’s a good pace. Tyler is go, go, go, always getting something done, so we get out of the office quite a bit. I think we both have the same drive to get things done.
‘I like being back. Sterling, Illinois, there’s not much to do here, but it’s home. It’s where I grew up, and it’s always nice to come home.
“It was easy to move back, not only because Sterling is home, but this area is a pretty strong military community with the National Guard units in Rock Falls and Dixon, so having many fellow vets in the area makes transitioning back into the civilian world much easier.”