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Starcevich leaves a lasting impression

By Ed Muniz

The 2014 Orland Park Pioneers Football Banquet was an event designated to pay homage to the players who endured the rigors of football for 12 demanding weeks in the late summer and fall. 
The season begins with an intense two-week, learning and seasoning practice routine. It was followed with scrimmages and finally the onslaught of a demanding schedule against hard-hitting opponents.
There's no doubt the Pioneer players earned every bit of the recognition and honors they received at the banquet.
For some, it signalled the transition from one sport to the next. Others had the 'I can’t wait to get back out there' feeling after the last awards were handed out.
Outstanding youth programs have great leaders -- not only at the organizational level where decisions are made with the best interests of the program in mind -- but also on the fields and sideline.
The Orland Park Pioneers are no exception. With a well-formed parent and volunteer base, the success of this past season was inevitable. On the field, leadership among the players was present at every level, but there was one player who stood out.
Programs all talk about the players who epitomize exactly what the organization wants to represent, and it’s not just about the talent on the playing field, it’s much more. 
It’s character; it’s fairness; it’s mentoring; it’s having the ability to truly listen and having the confidence to question; and in team sports, it's knowing the meaning of the team and being a good teammate. 
It’s everything positive that one strives to be. And for one eighth grade boy, it’s the norm.
Meet Ben Starcevich. Ben began playing for the Pioneers seven year ago and the organization has become a part of who he is.
“The fact that we all stick together as an organization and are one big family and not just looked at as single teams has been a major reason I continued with the Pioneers,” said Ben.
He added that it’s not just all about football with the Pioneers.
“I think it’s the fact that it benefits you in life," Ben said. "I mean they teach you football and it’s great, but they also help to teach you life’s lessons. All the coaches preach that family and school and church come first before sports. You get much more than just football.”
As a second-grader Ben knew immediately that playing football was something he enjoyed. It grew into a love of the sport. 
Ben said that football builds character on and off the field and gives him lessons he will use for the rest of his life.
Imagine your teenage boy telling you he enjoys football for the life lessons it will provide him looking ahead in his life.  
Ben enjoys the action in football, but his in-depth approach of the game is truly rare.
“I do like all the contact and running around, but I think I know football is probably not going to end up being what I’m doing in life," he said. "But it’s fun right now, and its helping me for what I am going to do.”
Reflecting more on the organization than on himself, Ben relayed why the Pioneers are so special to him.
“Unlike other organizations ... the Pioneers make football fun," he said. "There are some organizations that focus solely on winning and where the best players are always going to play, but that doesn’t happen here. The Pioneers want everyone to play and participate and winning is secondary."
To say the game is always fun for Ben would be misleading -- football just isn’t that way. Ben found the whole experience of being a Pioneer fulfilling but understood the lesson of taking the good with the bad.
“You get used to the hitting and the contact of the sport but when you get hurt, and it happens to 
everyone, it lingers,” he said.
Moving forward Ben plans to play as long as he can. But his talents aren’t just limited to the sideline. His on-field presence as the quarterback came naturally in his premier year at the position.
“Ben showed all you want in a leader," said varsity level coach Steve Budick. "When we put him at the quarterback position, we wanted someone who could handle difficult situations and have the ability to make quick decisions. Soon after he began practicing, we knew we had the right guy to lead us.
“When you have a player who does all the things you ask him to do and does them right and is low key about his successes, it makes your job as a coach easier. And that’s what we got from Ben no matter what we asked of him. The quarterback position came easy to him and was a perfect fit for him and us. I can see him playing that position for years to come; he is a natural leader.”
Ben had previously played solely as a lineman.
“I like playing quarterback, I think I’ll stick with that,” he said
Ben gave a lot of credit to his development to coach Mark Mikesell, who prior to this recent season had been Ben’s coach the previous four years.
“What I really liked about coach Mikesell was his always being composed and never losing it," Ben said. "He taught me a lot and got me started really getting into the game. He never got angry with what went wrong in the game. He addressed it but never spent the whole practice on it and corrected things and moved on.”
“He taught his players in practice and coached us the same way in games. He had a knack for getting us to understand what he wanted and expected, and I saw how he went about things. It leaves you with a good impression."
Ben's family was also a part of his season. He enjoyed discussing games and practices with his folks.
“I think it’s good to talk about games played and performances," Ben said. "You get information from a different view that you don’t see on the field, so I really like talking about games with my parents.”
Pioneer President John Stefanos added: “Ben is everything we want in a Pioneer. He is a great young man with so many qualities. He represents our program the way you want others to see us as a whole -- not only his abilities as an athlete but the person he is as well. His demeanor and personality, the respect he gives and the outright pleasure he is to be around is commendable.
“I am proud to have had him in our program, and he will be missed. This is the type of kid you want to coach, just a great kid.”
Players like Ben Starcevich don’t come around often but when they appear it’s easy to lay accolades at their feet -- they earn them not just on the field but also off of it. They leave impressions and memories that are easy to recall for years to come. Ben Starcevich is the kind of player that the Orland Park Pioneers program is all about.
Today's Schedule: Season Schedule