The first female athletic director in Rock Island High School history and a football coach who has long respected Rock Island's storied program have been hired as new leaders in 2017.
The Rock Island/Milan school board on Tuesday chose Michelle Lillis of Rock Island as the new athletic director and Ben Hammer, currently of Briscoe, N.C., as the new football coach.
These two will replace Bryan Stortz, who is leaving for Conant High School in Hoffman Estates, Illinois at the end of the school year.
Hammer will not be long in North Carolina; he plans to move to Rock Island by March 27 to start the new job. He will also teach high school history.
Lillis, who is currently Rock Island's assistant high school principal, will change offices for a job she has a passion for.
Former Rock Island football coach Vic Boblett reached out to Hammer a few months ago and suggested he apply for the job. The 30-year-old grew up in Peoria, and played on the offensive line for Peoria Richwoods. He knows first-hand how well the Rocks can play.
Hammer graduated from Illinois Wesleyan University in 2009 and currently coaches at East Montgomery High School in Briscoe. He has also coached U.S. national teams, under 15 years old and under 16 years old.
In that capacity, he's coached in the Middle East, Europe and in AT&T Stadium, home to the Dallas Cowboys.
Hammer is from a blue-collar background and sees football as an equalizer, with parallels between the game and life. He appreciates the chance to coach at Rocky, and also the opportunity to move closer to his family in Peoria.
The school board approved Hammer 6-0, as the board's Jim Bishop arrived after the votes were taken. Lillis was approved 5-1, with board president Linda Dothard providing the lone "no" vote.
Lillis, who coached a state championship girls track team at Rock Island in 2009, long wanted to step in the shoes of former athletic director, Bob Swanson. "I hope to walk in his footsteps," she said after the board meeting.
Lillis was in a degree program to be eligible for an administrative job, but Swanson retired before she finished it. In the meantime, she has honed her leadership skills for two years.
She spent 26 years coaching, and coached track and cross country teams. "I have a passion for athletics," she said, noting it is a way for students to reach goals in life.