By Eric Burgher
“Is this your kid?” the woman asked, holding the boy’s hand.
She had found him downstairs in the weight room doing flips and cartwheels. Attempting them, anyway. Susan Boehm gazed down at her then-four-year-old son, a big smile on his face and a welt the size of a grapefruit on his head.
At New Trier High School, a place the Boehm family calls their “second home,” nothing was out of bounds. If Spencer wasn’t using his body as a canvas for bumps and bruises, he was down on the court retrieving rebounds for the varsity team during warm-ups or in the stands watching one of his older siblings play.
So while some moms might have worried, reprimanded him or been embarrassed, Susan answered simply, “Yep, that’s our kid.”
Susan and Rodger Boehm have been watching their kids play at New Trier, sitting in the same seats, since 2004. Their sons Jack, Peter and Connor, and their daughter Jeannie all played basketball. Their son Mike was the only one who chose to play baseball.
Now Spencer, the youngest of the bunch, is the last member of the Boehm family to play at New Trier, which scored an upset victory Wednesday night in the Class 4A regional semi-final, defeating Zion-Benton 50-48. And while he is still just a sophomore, his coaches, teammates and even his family believes he may end up being the best of them all.
The history of athletes in the Boehm family goes back generations. Susan’s dad played basketball at Boston College, her brother played football at Yale and she played lacrosse at Holy Cross. Rodger, standing 6-foot-6, played basketball and baseball in high school. The two met at Harvard Business School.
As for his siblings, twins Jack and Peter were the first to play basketball at New Trier. Peter was a point guard, Jack a great shooter, both graduated in 2008. Next was Connor, a rebounder and finisher who graduated in 2012. And Jeannie a high school star who graduated in 2016, went on to become a McDonalds All-American, was named to the USA Basketball Women’s U18 National Team, and currently plays at Harvard.
Growing up with four older brothers, all of them 6-foot-5 or taller, things weren’t easy for Spencer. Some of it, however, was self-inflicted, he said.
“I was a little annoying at times,” Spencer admitted. “All my brothers teased me a lot so there’s a certain point where I couldn’t be annoying because they were either beating me up, punching me in the middle of a hallway or shoving me to the floor.”
His older brothers would play a game called “Urlacher,” named for the former Chicago Bears linebacker. Spencer would have to try to go from one side of the family room to the couch without one of them knocking him over. Spencer would cry when he got hit but then he’d want to go right back at it.
“It was always playful,” Connor said. “He was just the youngest.”
Still, his relationship with his older siblings is a special one. Growing up, he looked at them like they were celebrities, especially when it came to basketball. And no matter how competitive things got, they couldn’t help but love him, too.
“He’s just always been the baby of the family,” said Jeannie. “Everybody loves him and everybody loves to be around him.”
Spencer is described as introspective, mature, kind and respectful by his teachers, who didn’t know what to expect when they first saw a 6-foot-8 basketball player walk through their classroom door.
“He’s really friendly and outgoing,” said Brandon Stiller, a science teacher at New Trier and also Spencer’s academic advisor. “He goes out of his way to talk to the kids with special needs. If he has to leave early or go to practice, he’s nice about it. He’s really humble.”
It’s something Spencer attributes to his mom, who tells him the same thing every day: “Be kind and thoughtful.”
He took advantage of everything he could gain by growing up with such gifted siblings. When the older kids would go work out, young Spencer would tag along. When they would shoot baskets at the gym or out in the driveway, there was Spencer, under the basket getting their rebounds. But his coach Scott Fricke, who also coached Jack, Peter and Connor, doesn’t look for comparisons.
“He’s really just a different player than his brothers were so there’s really not anything to compare other than they’re all really good players,” said Fricke. “Spencer has a really good left hand and he’s more of a traditional forward who is also working on his ball-handling and shot.”
He added, “Spencer is the most skilled player at this young age out of any of them.”
In such a competitive family, it is difficult for any of them to admit that Spencer may end up being the best. But Jeannie, who is only two years older than Spencer and spent years playing one-on-one with him, is open to the possibility.
“We’ve stopped keeping score upon my request,” she said, laughing. “He’s become tough to beat in recent years. I’ve always seen the potential for him to be the best, but I have a hard time admitting he’s better than me.”
As much as their lives have revolved around sports, Rodger and Susan have also made sure to stress the importance of academics.
“My dad and mom both preach it first, if you can’t get the academics, you’re not going to be playing basketball,” Spencer said. “Basketball is a way of getting you into a great school, but they say academics always come first.”
After graduating from New Trier, Peter and Jeannie went to Harvard, Jack and Mike went to Bucknell and Connor went to Dartmouth. Peter, Connor and Jeannie continued playing basketball in college while Jack played baseball and Mike was on the rowing team.
“Basketball is certainly a means to an end, but it’s not the end itself,” Rodger said. “I don’t think enough people think about it that way, but it’s a way to build your teamwork and leadership profile. It’s an opportunity to open doors academically that may not have been opened on their own.”
Spencer is already on that path. He has a 3.5 GPA and was also selected as a board member for a group at New Trier called Tri Ship, which organizes and conducts service projects to raise money for kids that need scholarships for college, as well as canned food drives for the Greater Chicago Food Depository.
He’s already received letters of interest from Stanford, Wisconsin, Illinois and Holy Cross among others. He was named to the varsity team last year as a freshman, something Fricke said has only happened maybe five or six times in his 20 years at New Trier.
“Once I finally reached freshman year and they told me I was going to play on varsity, it was just a shock knowing that I was playing where all my older brothers played,” Spencer said. “They looked like NBA players to me when I was a four-year-old.”
Now that four-year-old with the grapefruit-sized bump is the starting power forward for the team he’s been watching for as long as he can remember. And Rodger and Susan will be there for every game, sitting in those same seats at center court, watching Spencer play in the gym where he grew up.
“Good things are going to happen and I couldn’t be prouder,” Susan said. “It’s just time, finally. Finally, it’s his time.”