This is the first installment in a series of stories about dedicated fans of Cardinal athletics.
One of the North Central College athletic department’s most devoted fans over the past several years has been Bill Picha ’66, who has become a fixture at the Cardinals’ basketball, volleyball and football contests since 2008.
Picha began seeking opportunities to indulge that interest prior to completing a 34-year career teaching middle-school mathematics in Villa Park.
He has had a lifelong interest in sports despite the physical inability to participate, “I had asthma as a child, and I didn’t even take part in gym class a lot of times,” he said. “I knew the athletic director, and he wanted me on the football team to kick the extra points, because I had built a goalpost in my backyard and taught myself how to do it, but there was no way I could do all the running that they did. That was the closest I ever came.
“I didn’t visit (North Central) for a long, long time, because I was doing all different things at school. As I got older, I thought about what I would do in retirement, this was something that fit in.”
After retiring, Picha spent several years providing daily care for his ailing father before beginning to attend North Central basketball and volleyball competitions. After the hiring of John Thorne as the Cardinals’ football head coach in 2002, Picha was compelled to add an outdoor sport to his routine, as well.
“I started out with basketball and volleyball, because they were indoor sports and I knew I wouldn’t freeze,” Picha said. “I was asked (prior to Thorne’s hiring) who I thought they should hire, because just about every coach in the area had applied, and I said they should hire the one who’s the most respected out of all the other coaches. It certainly appears that he fit the mold.”
In addition to attending the Cardinals’ home football games, he and his sister, Sally Picha’70 Billings, are also regular attendees of the Cardinal Caravans to away games. Both rode the fan bus to Aliance, OH, in 2013 when the Cardinals took on the University of Mount Union in the semifinals of the 2013 NCAA Division III Football Championship.
And while the quality of the competition has been excellent, more important to Picha is the atmosphere and the opportunity to support and share the North Central experience.
“I have a friend who comes to football games with me, and he’s not even a football fan,” he said. “He’ll come to our games because we don’t have the rowdiness and booing, and our pep band is well-prepared. I really enjoy being able to support young people who go to class and earn their degrees and turn out to be good citizens.”