A native of Vermillion, S.D., Mr. Seibel has lived in Elmwood Park for nearly 30 years.
Mr. Seibel has been with District 401 since 2006, when he became assistant principal at Elmwood Elementary School.
He remained in that position until 2015, when he was hired as Elmwood's principal. Now, three years later, he's moving across the train tracks to lead the ECC.
To learn more about Mr. Seibel, including his impressive career as a high school and college athlete, District 401 web/media specialist Dave Porreca interviewed him via email.
The Q&A was conducted this summer after Mr. Seibel officially began his new job. An edited version of their exchange appears below.
Q: You attended Vermillion High School in Vermillion, South Dakota. Could you tell us a little about growing up in South Dakota in general and Vermillion in particular?
A: Vermillion is a small town in the southeast corner of S.D. The University of South Dakota is located in town and is currently a Division I school. Growing up in Vermillion was wonderful; we knew all our neighbors, played outside every day the weather allowed it, and we creatively played all kinds of sports without the correct number of players most of the time. My grandmother had a farm outside of town where we raised hogs and chickens to sell. Once I was old enough to drive, the trips taking our hogs to market was always an adventure.
Q: You had a very successful athletic career at Vermillion High. You competed in four sports: football, basketball, wrestling and track & field. How many years did you compete in each sport, and what were some of your honors?
A: I played four years of varsity football; I was All-State in my junior and senior years. I played three years of basketball. I competed in track four years in shot put and discus. As a shot putter I qualified for the state meet all four years, finishing in second place as a junior in ’78 and winning the state championship as a senior in ’79 with a distance of 62 feet, 2.5 inches. I qualified for the state meet in discus three years. I wrestled during my senior year and placed fourth at the state wrestling tournament. I was also the 1979 South Dakota Athlete of the Year as a senior.
Q: What positions did you play in your various sports?
A: In football I was a fullback, linebacker, punter and placekicker. In basketball I was a forward. In track, as I mentioned, I was a shot putter and discus thrower. In wrestling I competed as a heavyweight.
Q: As you look back on your high school athletic career, what are some of your favorite memories?
A: We had some great rivalries with the athletes in the towns near us. As I grew up competing in swimming and wrestling, we would compete against these guys, so we knew each other and it made for some great competitions when we went against each other in high school.
Q: In 2017 you were inducted into your high school’s athletic hall of fame. What was that experience like?
A: Being inducted to the Vermillion H.S. Hall of Fame was a wonderful and humbling honor. It brought back so many great memories of the people I went to school with and the fact that this honor was possible because of them. It really made me think about the people who influenced me in order to accomplish the things I was fortunate enough to be able to do.
Q: Athletic competition obviously played a big part in your life as you grew up. What did sports teach you that you still apply today?
A: The first lesson my dad taught me when I was 8 was that if you begin something you finish it to the best of your abilities. This, I later understood, pertains to life as well as sports. Working together, and for each other, as a team toward a common goal is a winning combination. There is power in numbers when individuals have a clear focus and unified intent as a group.
Q: You went on to play football for the University of Nebraska from 1979 to 1982. I mention the years you played because Nebraska was one of the best teams in the country during that era. Did you grow up as a Cornhusker fan? Did Nebraska recruit you, or were you a walk-on?
A: I followed Nebraska as a college football fan until my senior year when Nebraska began recruiting me, and I became a Cornhusker for life. After Tom Osborne [Nebraska's head coach from 1973 to 1997] visited my house and I visited the campus seeing the Nebraska vs. Oklahoma game, I knew where I was going to college. I received a four-year scholarship as a student-athlete.
Q: For those who aren't familiar with your Nebraska career, what position(s) did you play and how many years were you a starter?
A: I was originally recruited as a linebacker and a placekicker. Before the season of my freshman year began, I was brought up to the varsity to do the kickoffs. I was a four-year starter and four-year letterman winner.
Q: What was it like playing college football at one of the most storied programs in the country?
A: It is hard to describe the feeling of running onto the football field as 90,000 red-clad fans erupt in one voice. We were fortunate to play at least three or four games every year that were televised nationally and to travel around the country to play games, including Hawaii my senior year. The attention that Top 10 teams receive is overwhelming, and a whole lot of fun when you’re in the hunt for a national championship.
Q: What were some of your personal highlights from that era?
A: My fondest memory is the first game of the season my freshman year. The whole excitement of the start of the season, running out to 90,000 die-hard fans; I somehow forgot that someone would have to kick the ball off to start the game. As the coin toss indicated we would kick off, it hit me that I needed my tee. Temporary panic set in as I took the tee and headed onto the field. As I teed the ball up, a micro onslaught of feelings hit me: Am I good enough to be here? Don’t mess this up…and a million other positive and negative thoughts scrolled through my brain. Before I approached the ball, I told myself that I had worked hard for this opportunity and I wasn’t going to squander it. My first kickoff as a Cornhusker went out of the end zone and into the stadium seats. As the stadium erupted, I ran off the field and told myself: Now I’m a Husker!
Q: Your head coach at Nebraska, Tom Osborne, was one of the most successful coaches in the history of college football. What was he like, and what kind of influence did he have on you?
A: Playing for Coach Osborne was a great experience. He was not a coach who yelled or swore; he was passionate about his players and the game — but people mattered to him. I learned respect for the game in a deeper sense and was always inspired by his belief in your ability to reach the high expectations of the traditions of the university.
Q: You played with some amazing teammates — All-Americans and future NFL pros like Dave Rimington, Dean Steinkuhler, Roger Craig, Mike Rozier, Irving Fryar, etc. Who were some of your favorites, and do you still stay in contact with any of them?
A: Distance and time have separated most of my teammates, but I was able to reconnect with many of them at a 20-year reunion at a game a few years back. Dave Rimington escorted me around on my recruiting visit, and he and I lockered next to each other for four years and were always close. I was fortunate enough to play with many talented players who kept raising the bar for those that followed.
Q: At the time you finished your Nebraska career, you were in the top five on the school’s all-time list of scorers, with 199 points (151 points after touchdowns, 16 field goals). Did you aspire to play in the NFL? Did you try out for any teams?
A: After my senior year at Nebraska I was with the NFL Washington Redskins for four preseason games before I was cut. After that I went to a tryout camp and then signed a contract with the USFL Chicago Blitz and played for them in ’83/’84.
Q: How did your time with the Blitz end? Did you play for any more teams, either in the USFL or NFL?
A: I was traded to the USFL New Jersey Generals in the off-season. I got a ride home from Herschel Walker one day after practice. And then Doug Flutie was signed, and 20 of us were sent home.
Q: At what point did you make the transition to becoming an educator? Why did you choose education as a profession?
A: After playing with the Blitz I was given an opportunity to coach football at St. Patrick High School, and I realized I wanted to work with kids not only on the athletic field but in the classroom as well. It should have been apparent to me as my grandmother taught in a one-room schoolhouse and both my mother and father were teachers as well.
Q: What college degrees do you have, and what schools are they from?
A: I have a B.A. from Northeastern Illinois University, then I did my master’s degree for administration at National Louis University.
Q: I’m assuming you began your education career as a teacher. If so, what subject(s) and grade level(s) did you teach?
A: I began teaching freshman biology and sophomore chemistry at SPHS.
Q: As an educator, did you work anywhere else besides District 401? If so, where, and what positions did you hold?
A: I worked at St. Patrick High School for 13 years. I was head football coach for six years and head track coach for six years.
Q: How long have you worked in District 401, and what positions have you held here?
A: I was hired as the assistant principal of Elmwood School in 2006 and became the principal in 2015.
Q: What attracted you to District 401?
A: I wanted to be a part of the school district where I’ve been a resident for nearly 30 years.
Q: What led you to settle in the Chicago area in general and Elmwood Park in particular?
A: I found the love of my life while playing for the Blitz; my home is where she is.
Q: Looking back on your time in the classroom before you moved into administration, what are some of your fondest memories? What are some of the things you’re proudest of as a teacher?
A: Bringing science to "life" for students who thought science was boring; watching their reluctance turn to anticipation of what's next, as the weeks pass. Having former students see me and remember something from class or a conversation we had (the good ones and not-so-good ones) and how it somehow influenced them.
Q: When you were teaching, were you a sponsor or coach of any student activities or sports? If so, which activities or sports, and where?
A: I was an assistant football coach for seven years and head football coach for six years. I was also an assistant track coach for one year and head track coach for six years.
Q: What led you to make the transition to being a school administrator?
A: I wanted to continue to learn and grow as an educator and be able to have a larger impact in changes that were coming to the educational field.
Q: Compared to teaching, what are some of the challenges and rewards of being an administrator?
A: Time is always a challenge during a school day; but a wonderful reward is the time spent in everyone’s classroom and seeing an entire community of learners grow throughout the building.
Q: What do you think your strengths are as an administrator?
A: I believe I have the ability to create a positive and collaborative relationship with people. Having taught for 10 years in the classroom, I also believe that I can present required tasks in the framework of both perspectives for a positive working plan to be implemented for the betterment of our students.
Q: You succeeded Sue Ponzio as principal of Elmwood Elementary School. What year did you begin at Elmwood, and what are some of the things you’re proudest of when you look back at your time as principal there?
A: I began at Elmwood in 2006 as a part-time assistant principal. Nine years later, I felt I was ready to take the lead of the school. I look back and am proud of revitalizing some of our traditions and making them a prominent part of everyday school life, and that I tried to add to those traditions with initiatives that moved us forward as a building.
Q: What are some of the things you’re looking forward to in your new role as principal of the Early Childhood Center?
A: I am truly energized to be working with the foundation of learners in our learning community. I am eager to implement our new curricula within our K classes as we create new learning opportunities for students. I am excited to work with my new staff to build on and create a warm, safe and friendly environment for students and a welcoming environment for parents to be an active part of their child’s education.
Q: Do you have a particular leadership philosophy that guides you as a principal? If so, what is it, and how did you develop it?
A: I am a collaborative leader, using the power of team and not the individual to grow. I have been a part of many successful teams, and I feel strongly that a unified team can accomplish anything they put their collective mind to using the knowledge and expertise of all to pursue the maximum growth for each student every day.
Q: Besides working in Elmwood Park, you also live here. What do you like about Elmwood Park?
A: Seeing current and former students when my wife and I are out and about in the Village.
Q: You work with very young children. What advice do you give them as encouragement when things aren’t going their way?
A: As every student is different, I try to understand the situation from their perspective and create a positive way that the student can "see" a way to a better outcome or more positive interaction. I always make it understood that there are supports in our school and I will be there for any support and encouragement they may need.
Q: What are some of your interests outside of work?
A: Golf, reading, travel, gardening.
Q: Would you like to tell us anything about your family?
A: I am the first of five boys born to Willie and Lois Seibel. My Gram "B's" taught K-8 students in a one-room schoolhouse for 30 years. Both Willie (high school) and Lois (second grade) taught for over 25 years. Kurt (second son) and Kyle (fourth son) are also teachers in South Dakota. Kent (third) is a railroad executive, and Karl (fifth) is with an electrical company. All five of us competed in swimming, gymnastics, wrestling, football, basketball and track growing up. Willie and Kurt are both Hall of Fame football inductees at the University of South Dakota.
Q: Most important question for last. Both Nebraska and the Chicago Bears have new head coaches this season (Scott Frost and Matt Nagy, respectively). What’s your forecast for each team?
A: The "Frost Warning" has been issued by Nebraska. I think this is the coach who will bring us back to the top. First year … 9-3, bowl game. Da Bears … feeling we have to be better, right?