May 08, 2023
Samantha Davis & Bria Taylor
Mike Seberger is the founder and director of the Illinois Lady Lightning competitive girls basketball program. While Seberger oversees the entire program, he also coaches the Select 17 team.
Lady Lightning is a BlueStar Travel program. The youth teams compete in suburban Chicago leagues and local and regional tournaments. High school teams compete in Nike Tournament of Champions, United States Junior National events, Select 40 and other regional and national tournaments. Seberger’s skills academy and camps also provide a year-round opportunity for players to work on improving their game.
Seberger founded the program in 2001 after being inspired by his oldest daughter's experience of joining a club basketball team, which came to an end when the coach left, resulting in the team's dissolution.
“Me and the assistant [coach of his daughter’s 2001 team] put our heads together. I went out and fundraised some money from some people I knew at my country club,” Seberger said. “Then we started our first tryout … It was two high school teams … We decided to have youth teams also in the winter.”
Seberger’s Lady Lightning has been growing ever since. The program has expanded from 10 to 19 teams, and now caters to students from third to junior years of high school.
“Most high school kids that are going division one have to report in June as soon as they graduate, so we don't really feel anything past junior year,” Seberger said.
Though Seberger's program concludes after the 11th grade, he ensures to visit all of his alumni at their respective colleges.
The Lady Lightning program's success is evident from the multitude of stickers and magnets adorning “Betsy” – Seberger’s 2001 Chevrolet Suburban. The stickers and magnets represent the schools where Seberger's athletes attend high school, college and even professionally.
Over time, the vehicle has become an iconic symbol associated with Seberger and the Lady Lightning program. According to Seberger, the name “Betsy” was chosen randomly, but it caught on quickly, even among the younger players. Many of the players and coaches have said, “If you see Betsy in the parking lot, you know Mike is here and you’re in the right place.”
The tradition started with a class of 2019 guard, Nikki Baird, who currently plays at Belmont University in Nashville.
“Her [Baird] dad runs a magnet company. So I bought some Lady Lightning magnets. I put one on each side of the fender,” Seberger said. “Then all of a sudden, Nikki kept putting Wheaton North [her high school] magnets on her [Betsy] and I'm like, ‘I'm not gonna turn this thing into a sideshow.’ So I kept taking them off. She kept putting more on.”
Seberger eventually relented and allowed other players to add their school magnets as well; it’s been a tradition ever since. In fact, Seberger now badgers his college athletes to go to their school bookstore to get a magnet before heading home for breaks. There are currently 116 magnets and stickers on Betsy and Seberger’s goal is to reach 200.
“I thought it [magnet tradition] was pretty cool,” Salazar said. “I used to see it in the parking lot of where we are, and I thought ‘oh Mike's here,’ because his car is very distinguishable.”
Betsy's magnetic and sticker coverings serve as a source of inspiration for the players, which is another reason why Betsy has become so iconic.
Under Seberger’s guidance, the Lady Lightning program has emerged as one of the top programs in the state.
Seberger is a Gary, Indiana, native whose passion for basketball began during his childhood.
“I think I played at my grammar school that I went to in fourth grade, that was my first taste,” Seberger said laughing.
Seberger continued playing through his college years at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
“I’m still in the record book in three categories,” Seberger said about his time at WMU. “Second career blocks, second career consecutive games played and 10th in career rebounds.”
Apart from basketball and coaching, Seberger is also an enthusiastic golfer who occasionally plays with the parents of his Lady Lightning athletes. While he used to enjoy snowmobiling, he has given it up.
Seberger and his wife, Gina, have three children: Sarah who played at Truman State University and is now a successful lawyer; Alison who played at Illinois State University and is an assistant coach at University of Alabama at Birmingham; and Morgan, who played at University of Southern Indiana, is currently a recreation therapist at Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital.
Seberger has also developed great friendships with the coaching staff. He coaches alongside Melesio Salazar.
“I’ve coached against Mike for a long time,” Salazar said. “Since Lexie, my daughter, was in maybe fourth or fifth grade, I always coached against him. Then she started playing for him last year, so she was in the program, and that's when I really got to know Mike.”
Seberger will often jokingly say he is known as “little Mike,” because he will typically be the tallest person in the room and cannot be missed.
“I always was more intimidated by him [Seberger], but then when I got to meet him, he's a big teddy bear,” Salazar said.
Elle Bruschuk, a guard in the class of 2024, has been a part of Seberger's basketball program since the beginning of her career. She began playing with the Lady Lightning program in second grade and played on teams meant for older players. She is currently a part of the Select 17 team.
“When I was younger, I used to go to a bunch of his training sessions,” Bruschuk said. “Going there when I was younger to see the growth now, that’s been a cool experience.”
Bruschuk has known Betsy since she came to Seberger’s program.
“I kind of view the car as like a trophy in a way,” Bruschuk said. “It shows the kids that are starting the program that you can get into big schools, you can go to college to play basketball.”
Bruschuk has already placed her high school magnet on Betsy, and has plans to add a college magnet to the vehicle in the coming year.
Betsy has required some maintenance so far, but is still running well. The vehicle is on a second engine, third transmission, and is currently at 462,000 miles.
“It's gonna be hard to let it go. Because it's like family,” Seberger said. “It’s kind of become the face of the program a little bit.”