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As St. Rita Coach Jim Angsten Battles ALS, Players Rally Around Him

 Jim Angsten coached football at St. Rita High School from 1978 to 1998. Last April, the no-nonsense coach was diagnosed with ALS, also know as Lou Gehrig's disease. A Saturday benefit to pay for his future medical expenses will be held from 4-9 p.m. at the Southwest Side school.
Coach Angsten of St. Rita
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ASHBURN — Jim Angsten, 66, often repeats a phrase heard in the hallways at St. Rita of Cascia High School, saying students enter as boys and leave as men.

Turns out, Angsten was personally responsible for this transition with many of the students at the all-male high school in Chicago's Ashburn community. Now those same men are rallying to support their former coach and mentor.

Angsten served as the defensive coordinator for the Mustangs' football team for 20 years. The no-nonsense coach remains on staff as a gym teacher.

Last April 1, Angsten was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. There's no cure for this paralyzing disease that inhibits the brain's ability to control muscle movement.

St. Rita High School will host a benefit to raise funds for Angsten's future medical expenses from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturday at the Southwest Side school at 7740 S. Western Ave.

"I receive several emails each month that say, 'Your dad was the biggest influence in my life,'" said Angsten's daughter, Jamie Baltazar, who's organizing the benefit.

One particularly moving letter came from Nick Kallenbach, a hockey player who graduated from St. Rita in 1984. Kallenbach was a scrawny player with "more will than skill." In his letter, he said the only way he felt he could contribute to the team was by being aggressive. But this also made him a fixture in the penalty box.

The hockey coach sent the often-penalized player to Angsten. Kallenbach described his struggles to the football coach, confessing to being "too aggressive."

"What's the problem with that?" Kallenbach recalled as Angsten's surprising response.

Rather than teach him to quell his hostility, Angsten encouraged him to focus. For Kallenbach, this culminated on the ice when a rival player punched him in the back of the head several times trying to draw him into a fight.

Instead, the once-troublesome player waited until the next faceoff. He then legally smashed his rival into the boards, eliciting a roar of the crowd rather than a referee's whistle.

"When you started coming to our hockey games, I found that I was trying to make you proud," Kallenbach wrote to Angsten.

Stories like these are sure to be commonplace at the one-time benefit, which Baltazar expects will draw upward of 1,000 people.

Angsten also coached football at Montini Catholic High School in suburban Lombard, Homewood-Flossmoor High School and Joliet Junior College. Former players from all of these schools are expected to attend the benefit for the Chicago Catholic League Hall of Fame coach.

Angsten will be there to greet all of them. He remembers most of his former students and players by name, Baltazar said.

"People will ask my dad, 'Hey, did you know this kid? Was he a good kid?'" Baltazar said. "He always tells them, 'They are all good kids.'"