BRONZEVILLE — IIT freshman Kaylee Wicka has a simple reason for never missing a day of school in her life.
"I don't like making things up," she said.
Wicka's incredible streak — consider that 10 percent of students miss school each day — began in her hometown of Escondido, California. She received accolades upon graduations from North Broadway Elementary, Rincon Middle School and, earlier this year, Escondido High School.
But it will almost certainly end this school year due to her basketball commitments for the Scarlet Hawks, for whom she'll play shooting guard, small forward and power forward.
On Friday, she registered for calculus 3, which Wicka already knows she'll skip on Jan. 22, when IIT travels a few miles north to face Moody Bible Institute on the Near North Side.
"I hope I don't miss anything important," Wicka, a mechanical engineering major, said with a laugh.
According to their mother, Sookie, attending school has always been serious business for Wicka and her two older brothers, Nathan and Brandon. Sookie Wicka, a Senn High School graduate, said Nathan and Brandon missed only three days of school each from kindergarten through high school, but jokingly noted "they were not committed as Kaylee was."
That commitment even led her to altering dates for her official visit to IIT around St. Patrick's Day. IIT coach Usha Gilmore wanted Wicka to spend Thursday and Friday on campus, in part to attend a class with a current Scarlet Hawks player — a standard part of the recruiting process. Wicka declined, telling Gilmore she wanted to come over the weekend instead.
"We struggled with the decision, but she thought getting perfect attendance was more important," Sookie Wicka said. "That's why she addressed it with the coach to rearrange the dates."
Gilmore, in her second year as head coach, was more than happy to comply. She considers Wicka a Division I-level player, a very unusual type of talent to come to a school like IIT, which competes in Division III.
To start last season — IIT's first since it had discontinued the program in 2009 — Gilmore's roster included 19 players, 10 who hadn't even played high school hoops. She finished the season with seven players — only four of whom had any previous experience — and just two wins.
"So when Kaylee agreed to come here, I was literally screaming in my office," said Gilmore, who led Rutgers to the 2000 Final Four, played for the WNBA's Indiana Fever and spent 14 seasons as a college assistant, including two at the University of Illinois.
"I'm just excited for the opportunity to coach her and see what she's going to bring to our team," Gilmore said of Wicka, who was named Escondido High's co-athlete of the year. "I don't want her head to get too big, but she's very talented."
Wicka said she's fortunate to be part of "a very exceptionally healthy family."
She never got sick during the school year and dealt with chicken pox several years before kindergarten. Wicka also avoided eating cafeteria food, as her mother always made her and her brothers sandwiches for lunch.
Wicka will be a bit sad to see the streak conclude this school year, but understands skipping a single class probably won't do too much damage.
"I only retain 20 percent of what my teachers say anyway," she said.
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