Bill Booker gladly returns to teaching PE in Mendota

St. Bede coach ‘loving’ his part-time job teaching PE at Mendota Holy Cross

Bill Booker smiles while teaching physical education on March 21, 2023 at Holy Cross School in Mendota.

Bill Booker retired after teaching 35 years at La Salle-Peru High School in May 2021.

His retirement didn’t last long.

Booker jumped right back into teaching grades K-8 physical education three days a week at Holy Cross School in his hometown Mendota.

And he’s loving it.

“My last nine years (at L-P) in the classroom, I was all health and I kind of missed being in the gym. So this gives me a chance to end my career the way I want to,” Booker said.

“It’s a great situation, a lot of good people that work there. I know a lot of the kids’ parents, or grand parents, I guess it is. So it’s kind of nice going home with them and sharing stories with them.”

Holy Cross principal Mike Struna didn’t hesitate bringing Booker in last year and said he’s been a great fit. They worked together at St. Bede.

“It’s been a positive for our school. I wasn’t surprised he did so well with the little kids. They just love him,” he said.

“I think he might have been surprised how much fun he had last year. He doesn’t have to (teach), but he wants to and he’s having fun.”

An all-business kind of teacher/coach at the high school, Booker jokes he has changed his ways.

“People aren’t going to believe this, but I’ve become a good guy with the K-8 kids,” he said with a laugh.

“My last nine years (at L-P) in the classroom, I was all health and I kind of missed being in the gym. So this gives me a chance to end my career the way I want to.”

—  Bill Booker - Mendota Holy Cross

Nothing has changed about the way he puts his plan in motion. He still maintains a tight schedule and daily routine.

The PE week starts with a “Training for Tuesday” with a series of plyometrics with a twist.

“I’ve renamed them Booker Robics,” he said. “It’s fun and the kids enjoy it, but they work. Some of the little kids go, ‘It’s not Booker Robics, it’s boot camp.’

“Or another little second grader said last week, ‘Training for Tuesday? How about, ‘Torture for Tuesday.’”

Wednesdays are game days from Wiffle ball to kick ball to “Sharks and Minnows” and other “fun stuff the kids enjoy doing.”

Thursdays he said is the kids’ all-time favorite, dodge ball.

He said he has about 50 kids in class when he combines fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth grades together.

“I said that’s OK, because my first few years of teaching, I’d have 48 in my class then have six or seven added and I’ve had to tape another piece to my grade book to add all the names. And those were big kids.”

While it is a lot of fun and games, it can be tiresome for the teacher, too.

“It can be tiring some days, trust me, with the little kids, because you’ve got to be engaged with them all the time,” he said. “I told my wife, ‘I think I’m getting old, because I’m getting a little more tired at the end of the day.’”

Bill Booker teaches physical education on March 21, 2023 at Holy Cross School in Mendota.

Many of the boys Booker is teaching have come to his baseball camps at St. Bede, which has led to a lot of friendly bantering back and forth between their Mendota Trojans and his St. Bede Bruins.

“We have fun teasing between St. Bede Bruins and Mendota Trojans. I said, ‘Well when Mendota doesn’t play St. Bede, I still root for them.’ Purple’s my second favorite color,” he said.

Laura Doyle, a Holy Cross teacher, first put the bug in Booker’s ear about the job two years ago.

“Laura said, ‘I’ve got a job for you.’ I jokingly said, ‘It can’t pay enough for me,’” Booker said. “But you know what, it’s not about the pay. It’s just fun for me now,” he said.

“It’s nice going back home to Mendota and it’s kind of my way to give back to Mendota, because when I’m done here, I’m done.”

Booker said he’s not putting a date on when that may be, “because I have so much fun doing it.

“I still like to work out and get my fitness stuff in. It keeps me active with the kids, because if you can’t do something you can’t do then they start doubting you. Don’t want that to happen, not yet any way.”

Booker, who is an assistant football coach at St. Bede, has had a highly successful career coaching baseball.

He led L-P to two state tournaments, placing fourth in 2009 and second in 2012, his last season at L-P. He won 375 games in 20 seasons atL-P with two 33-plus win seasons and eight 21-plus win seasons.

Booker came over to rival St. Bede in 2015, leading the Bruins to a fourth-place finish at state in his first season. He has won three regionals and one sectional in seven years at the Academy.

St. Bede head boys baseball coach Bill Booker (center) coaches players Alex Ankiewicz and Ryan Slingsby against Riverdale on Monday, March 20, 2023 at St. Bede Academy.
Kevin Hieronymus

Kevin Hieronymus

Kevin has been sports editor of the BCR since 1986. He previously was sports editor of the St. Louis Daily News and was a regular contributor for the St. Louis Cardinals' magazine. He is a 2021 inductee into the IBCA Hall of Fame (Media) and a 2023 inductee into the Shaw Media Illinois Valley Hall of Fame as "Distinguished Media."