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Out of the Bullpen: Superintendent has fond memories of his baseball days

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By Chuck Fieldman

Paul O’Malley spent some time in the bullpen warming up, both figuratively and literally, before becoming superintendent of Butler Elementary School District 53 in 2019.

Before taking the top administrator’s job in Oak Brook, O’Malley served as associate superintendent of schools at Oswego Community Unit School District 308, assistant superintendent for business services at Niles Township High School District 219 and Glenbard Township School District 87, and director of finance, operations, and human services for the Ridgeland School District in Oak Lawn.

Right before coming to District 53, O’Malley served as superintendent of Norridge Elementary School District 80. He began his education career teaching high school chemistry, natural science, and physics, first at Maine South High School, then at Stevenson High School.

 


“There is nothing like being ahead or behind with an inning left and knowing you need to give it your all to work from behind or to come out on top.”

– Paul O’Malley on what he misses about the game of baseball


 

While he has an impressive resume as an educator, O’Malley didn’t enter that world directly upon graduating from Illinois State University in 1995. Instead, after an impressive showing at the collegiate level, he was drafted by the Houston Astros baseball organization and spent the 1994-99 seasons compiling a 36-40 record while pitching 672 innings. His best season was in 1996 while playing for the Astros minor league team in the Quad Cities. O’Malley finished the year with an 11-9 record and a 3.34 earned run average in 178 innings pitched.

“In my last year of playing professionally, I knew that I wouldn’t spend my career in MLB,” he said. “You hit a point in time where you have peaked, and you are not making the progress that is necessary to compete at the next level. I knew that I would not be able to continue playing professionally and needed to think about a different career path.”

O’Malley’s decision to pursue a career as an educator wasn’t a difficult one to make when he decided it was time to move on from baseball.

“During my high school and college careers, I was fortunate to have incredible coaches and teachers that played a big part in being role models in my life,” he said. “I knew I wanted to be one of them for future generations of students and student-athletes. I even coached high school baseball early on in my career as an educator.”

Although he no longer plays, O’Malley enjoys watching baseball as a Cubs fan and particularly focusing on the international players that are coming to the U.S. and changing the dynamic of the sport.

He began playing baseball at an early age. “I have been playing baseball since I can remember, especially with my five older brothers in the park,” he said. “It has been a part of my life for a considerable amount of time, but I first started playing organized baseball for Skokie Youth Baseball during grade school.”

O’Malley took to playing baseball early and continued to enjoy it for many years. “Aside from spending time with my brothers and watching them play baseball from a young age, I loved being outside and with friends,” he said. “These were the moments that made baseball so enjoyable for me. That, and cheering for the Chicago Cubs.”

Early in his baseball days, O’Malley was primarily a pitcher, shortstop, and catcher. “At a young age, I always loved playing catcher because I never went home clean and took in the view of the entire field from behind home plate,” he said.

It was during his sophomore year at Niles North High School in Skokie that O’Malley really began to blossom as a pitcher. “I really started to change the dynamics of baseball and lean into the role as a pitcher,” he said. “Compared to my teammates, I started to evolve my pitching tactics, throwing the ball with speed and precision. I always was a pitcher and always wanted to be a pitcher, even when playing with my brothers. Every single play starts from the mound and through the pitcher. You develop leadership skills and analytical skills and take risks based on the type of pitch. Then, you learn to react accordingly.”

O’Malley played varsity baseball at Niles North during his junior and senior years, earning All-State honors as a senior right before graduating in 1991.

“There were a lot of really good players on the varsity team at Niles North, many of whom did not go on to play Division 1 baseball,” he said. “It was a true honor to be recognized and one that I am incredibly proud of.”

After high school graduation, O’Malley moved on to Illinois State University, and knowing he would be playing baseball there was “definitely the primary driver for my college career and attending Illinois State University,” he said. “Not only was the scholarship available for playing baseball, but ISU was in the Missouri Valley Conference, which had some of the most competitive baseball teams in the college sport.”

While at Illinois State, O’Malley added his name in the Redbirds’ record book in multiple places:

• Tied for 7th most career complete games with 8

• Tied for 26th in career games, started with 26

• Tied for 22nd in career innings pitched with 210.2 over his career

• Led the team in innings pitched (88.0) during the 1993 season

• Led the team in strikeouts during the 1993 and 1994 seasons, respectively, with 62 (1993) and 72 (1994).

• Named All-MVC Second Team following the 1990 season

• Awarded MVC Pitcher of the Week honors during the 1994 season

It’s been 30 years and more since O’Malley showed his stuff as a high school and college pitcher, but he has great memories of those days.

“There are so many to choose from during the playing career, but overall, I enjoyed the camaraderie and teammates,” he said. “We always had a lot of fun on the field and off the field. I made some great friendships that I still carry today. You learn a lot about each other when you are traveling, on the road, and competing together.”

After college, O’Malley was drafted by the Astros in the fourth round of the amateur baseball draft as the 110th overall pick. He stayed with the team’s organization for six years and won a total of 36 games.

With his impressive baseball playing days behind him, O’Malley doesn’t hesitate when asked what he misses most of that time. “The thrill of competition,” he said. “There is nothing like being ahead or behind with an inning left and knowing you need to give it your all to work from behind or to come out on top. The adrenaline rush and excitement are something that you can’t recreate every day.” ■

Photo courtesy of Illinois State University

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