Jeff Plackett has been a man of many roles at Naperville Central. As AD, he wants to get many people involved.

Jeff Plackett has worn a lot of hats during his 23-year career at Naperville Central.

He has taught English, has coached girls water polo, has chaired the counseling department, was a founding member of the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame committee and, since 2011, has been the public address announcer at football games.

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While Plackett has enjoyed all of those roles, none compares to his next one. Plackett will fulfill a longtime dream when he assumes the position of athletic director on July 1.

“This has always been a pathway I was interested in,” Plackett said. “My career took me out of the classroom and into counseling, so this wasn’t really on the radar.

“But it became a thing a couple months ago. It was a little voice in my head saying it was time to pursue this again.”

Plackett, a 1997 Naperville North graduate, has been interested in leading an athletic department since he was in high school and found mentors in longtime athletic director Neil McCauley and his then-assistant, Marty Bee, who later became the athletic director at Naperville Central.

“As a high school athlete, I had what I thought was a really neat relationship with Neil McCauley,” Plackett said. “To see how much people respected Neil and Marty, I don’t know that you could ask for two better role models in terms of how to do that job.”

Plackett is the middle of three brothers who were multisport athletes at Naperville North. He and his younger brother, Brian, played football and water polo and swam for the Huskies. The oldest brother, Timothy, joined them in water polo and swimming.

Timothy Plackett is a renowned Army surgeon who is a member of the trauma team at University of Chicago Medicine. Brian Plackett, who kicked the game-winning field goal to beat Lockport in a 1998 Class 6A state quarterfinal, coaches club water polo and is a Carol Stream police officer.

“We come from a family of civil servants,” Jeff Plackett said. “What I admire most about both of my brothers is they’re going out and serving the community and, especially with my older brother on his deployments, putting themselves in harm’s way.

“I’ve got a safe office job. What they do is bigger than what I do.”

Yet Plackett knows he makes an impact. He was heavily influenced by coaches like Larry McKeon, Stan Gruszka and Steve Mazzarella, as well as McCauley and Bee, who hired him to coach girls water polo.

The Redhawks won six state trophies, including four runner-up finishes, under Plackett. But success is more than winning championships.

Naperville North graduate Barry Baldwin, who coaches boys golf and is an assistant in girls soccer at Naperville Central, has worked with Plackett for years.

“Jeff understands something Marty Bee used to say — high school athletics is an extension of the classroom,” Baldwin said. “One goes hand in hand with the other.

“There’s no doubt he feels to have a successful high school, you really need a successful activities program and athletic program, and I think he will help elevate our athletic program.”

Plackett, who succeeds Chris Kirkpatrick, will be Naperville Central’s fourth athletic director in four years. He intends to bring stability and a fresh perspective.

“One of my first goals is to increase the number of people who are working scorers tables, selling tickets, things like that,” he said. “We lean awfully hard on the same people to work multiple different events.

“I want to show people you don’t even need a background in a sport. You just need to be a high school sports fan and the interest in seeing the kids do something outside of the classroom.”

That can strengthen the school’s culture, according to Baldwin.

“He will build the Naperville Central community within the building by getting younger teachers involved,” Baldwin said. “It will let teachers and faculty members see that you can see a different side of our students by attending and working these events, and they will see a different side of you. So you’re strengthening that relationship between student-athletes and the faculty.”

Plackett also intends to strengthen other bonds.

“I’d like to bring to the department the same philosophy that I brought to my department chair role, which is what can I do to serve the people who know what they’re doing, so that they are able to do their job to the best of their ability,” he said. “I am a fan of all sports, but certainly it’s not the role of the athletic director to micromanage.

“If there’s administrative stuff that I can do behind the scenes that’s going to help our coaches focus more on kids and on coaching, then I’m all for it.”

That has Baldwin enthused.

“Jeff is a product of Naperville,” Baldwin said. “He knows how important high school athletics is to the Naperville community.

“I have absolutely no reservations that he will go down as one of the best athletic directors in Naperville history. I truly believe at the end of his career he will be mentioned in the same breath as (McCauley and Bee).”

Matt Le Cren is a freelance reporter.

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