Lou Kucera, right, has been lighting up the sports scoreboard at Riverside-Brookfield High School for more than a decade. He credits Mike Popela, left, as his mentor at the scorer's table. (David Pierini/Staff Photographer)

Brookfield native Lou Kucera has always loved sports, accentuated by his very impressive collection of sports and political memorabilia. An autographed photo of New York Yankees legends Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, Joe DiMaggio and Yogi Berra (posing essentially as the Mount Rushmore of Yankee pinstripes tradition) along with a book signed by President Richard Nixon are among his most prized possessions.

“Old habits die hard,” Kucera said with a laugh. “I still enjoy going down to hotels in the city when visiting teams are in town to play the Cubs or White Sox and getting some pictures or balls signed.”

Kucera fondly recalls a particular luncheon he attended honoring Chicago Bears legend, Walter Payton.

“It was a luncheon out in Schaumburg, and all these guys like [former Chicago Bears player] Dan Jiggetts were roasting Payton pretty good. Walter was by the door thanking everybody for coming. All of a sudden, I feel this huge forearm behind my back. It’s Walter with a full smile and he said to me, ‘You had a good time, huh?'”

While that brief but unforgettable moment shared between “Sweet Lou” Kucera and Walter “Sweetness” Payton will never be forgotten by the former, the reality is Kucera tackles each day with his own signature joie de vivre. His greatest source of happiness comes from his extensive involvement at Riverside-Brookfield High School.

Kucera works as a substitute teacher with special needs kids and also helps the athletic department in myriad ways. Kucera handles the scoreboard and game clock along with some announcing and stat-keeping at several RBHS sporting events like football, basketball and soccer games along with swim meets.

“I just love being around the kids,” Kucera said. “Sometimes I’ll just look at them and their facial expressions say a thousand words. I just smile or laugh and shake my head. RB is truly a special place. The administration, our Athletic Director Art Ostrow, the coaches and kids have all been awesome. I can’t say thanks enough to Art especially, because he’s given me a so many opportunities to be involved with the school.”

Kucera graduated from Lyons Township High School in 1974 and played baseball and swam for the Lions. After attending College of DuPage for two years and playing baseball for the Chaparrals, he finished his college degree at Loyola University in 1980. He remains close with his immediate family — parents (Lou and Blanche), brother (Jim) sister-in-law (Karen), uncle (Bob), one niece and one nephew. Kucera also cherishes the camaraderie he still shares with his childhood best friend, Steve Aschburner, a senior writer for NBA.com.

After working in the banking and management industry for several years after college, Kucera ultimately gravitated to aspects of his life that held the most significant interest for him: sports, education and relationships.

“The students respect Lou for a myriad of reasons,” RBHS girls basketball/baseball coach Dallas Till said. “They appreciate his constant support and his infectious personality is contagious to everyone he encounters. Lou does not judge or criticize, he encourages and supports each and every program equally.”

Kucera also enjoys a unique friendship and working relationship with RBHS grad Mike Popela, the Bulldogs’ other announcer. He typically calls basketball and football games as the public address announcer.

“Mike is my mentor,” Kucera said. “Through the years, we’ve been working games together doing the announcing and handling the scoreboard and clock; I’ve picked up things from him. We try to make the games a little more interesting and fun.”

Kucera’s genuine likeability has endeared him with countless people around the RBHS community. Like the interchangeable associations of Harry Caray with the Cubs, Vin Scully with the Dodgers and Ernie Harwell with the Tigers, Kucera represents in some ways the face and voice of Bulldogs sports. Simply put, he’s a wonderful ambassador for RBHS sports.

“Lou is a character,” RBHS 6-foot-5-inch freshman center Dana Rettke said. “He always has a smile on his face and talks to everyone. I remember when he coached us in summer league, he would take us out for ice cream. He really has a passion for sports, which is great.”

On one occasion, Lyndsey Hoyd (another promising freshman girls basketball player) couldn’t even be saved by the bell once the talkative Kucera got the conversation rolling.

“He made me really late to class one time because he kept asking questions about basketball,” Hoyd said. “You have to love what he does for the sports program.”

Kucera came aboard at RBHS in 2003 when he started working the VandeMerkt Thanksgiving basketball tournament. In 2007, he began helping out as a substitute teacher. Over the past decade and change, He’s established himself as an invaluably versatile jack of all trades resource for the school.

“Lou is one of our true go to guys around school,” Ostrow said. “He helps out around the school in so many ways and he’s willing to do anything, a lot of times on short notice. We’re really lucky and grateful to have Lou.”

As the seasons go by, Kucera has seen more than his share of unforgettable games and built strong relationships with so many successful student-athletes. A few, in particular, come to mind.

“The greatest game I ever saw [at RBHS] was the [2005-06 season] girls basketball regional title game between RB and Proviso West,” Kucera said. “Proviso West came out fast hitting us with three-point bombs and RB had the McCloskey girls, Maggie and her cousin, Kaitlin. RB rallied from 17 down at halftime to win the game 78-72, Maggie scored 37 points including 8 three-pointers and Kaitlin finished with 33 points. Molly McCloskey was a freshman in the program that year as well. There was a huge crowd; it was just a special night.”

In the fall of this school year, Kucera marveled at the historical accomplishment of RBHS cross-country runner Mailin Struck. A foreign exchange student from Germany, she won the Class 2A cross-country state title, becoming the first female state champion in RBHS history.

“I was so glad to be in Peoria to see Mailin win the state title,” Kucera said. “I had Mailin for two classes one day and screwed up her name multiples times within an hour. She just looked at me, laughing.”

While Struck has returned home to Germany, Kucera remains ensconced around the RBHS campus. Unequivocally, he proudly bleeds Bulldog blue.

“Although Lou is a former LT alum, we have converted him from a Lion to a Bulldog,” Till said.

Added Kucera: “I love it here. I could stay at RB forever and be happy.”