Like father, like daughter: Michael family thrives at Eastern

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Like father, like daughter: Michael family thrives at Eastern

Eastern redshirt-freshman Kylie Michael awaits an opponent's serve in a match against Eastern Kentucky on Oct. 19. The Panthers won the match 3-0 in Lantz Arena.

Eastern redshirt-freshman Kylie Michael awaits an opponent's serve in a match against Eastern Kentucky on Oct. 19. The Panthers won the match 3-0 in Lantz Arena.

Adam Tumino

Eastern redshirt-freshman Kylie Michael awaits an opponent's serve in a match against Eastern Kentucky on Oct. 19. The Panthers won the match 3-0 in Lantz Arena.

Adam Tumino

Adam Tumino

Eastern redshirt-freshman Kylie Michael awaits an opponent's serve in a match against Eastern Kentucky on Oct. 19. The Panthers won the match 3-0 in Lantz Arena.

Tom O'Connor, Volleyball Reporter

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He was a 6-foot-8 forward at the University of Illinois, an academic counselor for college athletes and an executive administrator for the same program he once played for, all before taking up his current post as the athletic director at Eastern. 

Yes, each of these occupations describes Tom Michael, but there is one job title that exceeds them all, one that he did not need an interview for. 

“To me he is not the athletic director; to me is just my dad,” Kylie Michael said.

Not long after Tom settled into his office in the Lantz Arena complex, his own daughter, Kylie, began touring the sights of college athletic programs.

Struck by the serene, verdant landscape of the campus grounds, Kylie came to feel, more with each minute she spent at Eastern, that it would serve as the setting of the next phase in her volleyball career. 

Yet, it was her future teammates and the tightly knit group they had formed that, in actuality, would ultimately sway her towards the Eastern athletic program.

But one person had a few reservations. 

“I was probably a bit more concerned about that than she ever was,” Tom said. “When we had that conversation, I really was in some ways trying to maybe have her look at other places. She had obviously been around here and she visited here and met with the girls and she said, “Dad, I love EIU and this is where I want to be.”

Once Kylie expressed her intention to enroll at Eastern, though, Tom was unwavering in his support. This adhered to a precept Tom has abided by: listen to your kids and support them in wherever their aspirations lead.

After mulling it over, Kylie came to a decision.

“Then I said there is no sense of me getting in the way of it,” Tom said. “She loves it here and that is most important to me. The uneasiness that it is for me, I will deal with that as long as she is happy and wants to be here.”

When, at the age of 14, Kylie made the decision to continue her vocation as a volleyball player, she joined the Illini Elite, which, during her freshman season, kindled a vision of one day playing in college. It was something she envisioned, fantasized about and certainly coveted.

What had been a dream for Kylie would be a nightmare for all the opposing players that might cross her path four years later. 

“It has just been with me forever,” Kylie said.

Well, forever in the sense that she has played the sport since fifth grade. She has tried her hand at other sports along the way.

Basketball did not come quite as easily for Kylie, whose skills at arching the ball directly through a carbon steel rim were not, from Tom’s perspective, proficient or unrivaled.

So she traded in her shooting sleeves for knee pads and began playing with a ball two to three inches smaller, give or take, in diameter.  

“I would say this if Kylie were sitting here that when she was on the basketball floor it was not smooth, it was not natural for her to play basketball, but it was very comfortable and natural for her to play volleyball.”

Clearly, Kylie and her brothers have benefitted from the fruits of this family tree, playing at the collegiate level much like their father. 

It is, of course, a family dynasty of collegiate athletes. Kylie was next in the long line of succession, taking her rightful place on the court. 

Her brother Nate, a senior basketball player at McKendree University, shattered a school record, which held for 62 years until he broke it, for points in a game, unloading 51 points at Quincy.

“I don’t want to say its expected, but like people think, ‘Oh, both your brothers played in college, your dad played in college, you should be playing,’” Kylie said. “I feel like it would be weird for me not to because I would not know what to do with my time.”

In four seasons at the University of Illinois, from 1990-1994, Tom Michael guided the Illini to the highest three-point percentage in a single season (still stands), two NCAA tournament appearances and two academic All-Big Ten selections. 

In much the same way, Kylie followed suit. 

Her meteoric rise from sitting out her freshman year- which was an immediate result of some of the knee problems she had been contending with-to becoming a pillar in the starting lineup the season to follow, was of little surprise to Tom, who saw Kylie’s brilliance all along. 

Through the years, Tom supported Kylie’s ambitions and, then, after witnessing this development and watching her grow up, he came to share the same workplace. 

That alone, has not been a big deal for the team on which she represents.

 “It’s not an issue or anything,” said Eastern volleyball head coach Julie Allen. “He allows his daughter to become a strong, standout athlete.”

After all, her father’s duties as the leading athletic administrator are not what come to mind when she sees him in the hallway or opens one of his comical text messages at practice.

He has been an exemplar beyond compare.

“He would do anything for anyone and I would like to be that person on and off the court,” Kylie said. “I tell my teammates that if you ever need anything I will be here no matter what.”

Tom O’Connor can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected].