Page 1

l march 2009 l 1

2 l march 2009 l

l march 2009 l 3

LEFT: Sesser-Valier’s Kendall Gibson (right) battles Cairo’s Melvin Johnson (left) for a rebound in recent action. Chris Kays photo

on the COVER:

Main: Marion High School manager and statistician Nick DeFrank watches during warm-ups Inset: Marion Wildcats manager A. J. Williams carries a fresh cup of cold water to a player during a recent game. Ceasar Maragni photos

4 l march 2009 l

Volume 2...........Number 8 Cover Story

Many Southern Illinois young people overcome big obstacles … Just to be a part of the game

24 The LineUp


Publisher’s Greeting..................7 Decisions...Decisions

Tasha Kill tackles tough choices after her dad accepts coaching job at Northern Illinois


Ask the Coach...........................8 Ask the AD..............................10 Around the Horn......................14 Faith on the Field....................15

Man With a Plan

Sesser-Valier Red Devil three-sport athlete Kendall Gibson has his priorities in order


From Where I Sit.....................18 In Focus..................................34 JALC Journal...........................36 Murf’s Turf...............................38

Halstead Brings Success & Integrity to JALC Baseball


Veteran coach begins his 26th year at Logan

RLC Report..............................40 SISC Viewpoint........................42 On the High Road....................46

l march 2009 l 5

Publisher/Editor Jim Muir

Graphic Design Toby Brooks


Cheryl Shafer Collins


Christopher Kays Ceasar Maragni

Contributing Writers Teri Campbell Danny Czerwinski Chris Denault John Homan Bob Kelly Roger Lipe Ceasar Maragni Mario Moccia Jim Muir Mike Murphy Jackie Myers Les O’Dell Sean Patrick Tom Wheeler

6 l march 2009 l



By Jim Muir


reetings and welcome to the March issue of Southern Illinois Sports Connection.

This month’s magazine is unique because we explore a topic that I’ve never seen covered, at least on the local level. It’s also a topic that provided one of those ‘light bulb’ moments in life – you know where the light bulb flashes on and everything becomes bright and clear. Let me explain. As many of you know I do play-by-play on WQRL (106.3 FM) for Benton Rangers football, basketball and baseball. Obviously, that fact alone means that I’m at many different sporting venues around Southern Illinois on a weekly basis. Couple that with the fact that I worked for many years as a reporter and pay close attention to my surroundings and you have the two main ingredients that came together to make up this month’s cover story – ‘Just to Be a Part of the Game.’ In my travels I noticed that a lot of young people, many facing obvious physical and learning disabilities, worked with various teams as managers, statisticians and in other roles. At the Rich Herrin Classic, held in early February in Benton, I noticed a young man from Marion who was helping with the team. I noticed just how painful it was to watch him walk as he went about his duties helping the Wildcats. I learned later that the young man’s name is Nick DeFrank and he provided the inspiration – that light bulb moment I referred to earlier – for this month’s cover story. The following week I called Marion athletic director Mike Chornak to inquire about DeFrank’s role with the team. Chornak was very helpful and also told me about another young man, A.J. Williams, who also helps with Marion basketball. An email to area athletic directors brought a quick response from Mike Mooneyham, of Herrin, and Rick Moss, of Carbondale, who told me about a couple of young men – Tyler Lukens of Herrin and Thomas Jefferson of Carbondale – that would make excellent additions to the story. The following week I was able to meet and interview all four young men and I have to admit that it was a remarkable and refreshing experience. I believe you’ll enjoy reading the story and meeting these special young men who provide inspiration to all of us. Along with our cover story we also have an excellent story about the successful career of John A. Logan College baseball coach Jerry Halstead, our increasingly-popular ‘Ask the Coach’ segment and our usual other fine assortment of stories. Enjoy the March issue and regardless of what feeble punches Mother Nature tries to throw our way the next few weeks … think spring.

Jim Muir l march 2009 l 7

By Tom Wheeler

offensive players coming to the ball because they have a better understanding of how to get open and usually the guy you want going to the line if fouled. If tied or behind, I want my best guy taking it out. You can get him the ball once it comes in but he is probably a good decision maker and will get it in where it needs to go. You can then get your guy open from there with a screen or a hand back. MIKE MOONEYHAM (Athletic Director at Herrin High School who coached at Johnston City and Herrin where he led the Tigers to a second place finish at state in 2002)

More times than not, this player is not only the best player on the court but also the smartest player on the floor. He probably has the best instincts and his decision making is better than In that situation I have two anyone out there. When a ball thoughts. I always felt I wanted my best is inbounded in a pressure situIf we are ahead, I want my best player inbounding the ball. ation, more times than not, the CRAIG PARTRIDGE (Cobden High School athletic director who coached at Century, Anna and Rend Lake College)

8 l march 2009 l

person who is receiving the pass will be taken out of the equation with a trap because he catches the pass in a defensive position. The person who inbounded the ball is often forgotten about and a quick reversal to him while he is on the move, into an open court allows for more options than the trapped stationary player has. BRAD WEATHERS (Athletic Director/ Basketball coach at Carlyle High School when they won the state championship in 1989; currently principal at Nashville High School who assists with the basketball program) If the person inbounding the ball was not our best player, it was certainly one of our better players. Typically this was our best passer and a strong free throw shooter. Versus pressure in late game situations, this player needed to be heady and able to read the defense. Against trapping situations, we many times looked to get the ball back to the inbounder quickly by stepping him inbounds towards the ball for a quick reversal bounce pass. Ideally, this pass would be made prior to a hard trap or before a foul occurred. He would then look to pass down the floor or take the slack out of the defense by dribbling at an angle to the weak side. We tried to make the defense guard the entire floor. The intention was to have our best free throw shooter and passer with the ball in his hands in a position where he could do the most good (facing the defense). Versus full court man denial, we might look to pass long if the inbounder was guarded (man on the ball and no help long). If the inbounder was not guarded, we might have called for the point guard (being denied) to step out of bounds. The inbounder would pass to him and then step inbounds for a quick return pass. Of course, this was only an option in a live ball situation where the inbounder could run the baseline. Again, we were attempting to get the ball back to the inbounder.

MacKenzie Kennels “The Bunk House” BOARDING ALL BREEDS • Dogs & Cats • Heated and Air Conditioned • Excellent Care

(618) 599-4789

l march 2009 l 9

Ask the

AD By Mario Moccia

course, I’d disagree with that reasoning. Recall during our recent Sweet 16 season two years ago that ESPN listed Arkansas’ and Indiana’s quality wins were against SIU! Matt and Bruce are both great guys, but they need to do what they think is best for their programs. I text them all the time and will continue to do so.

When will a decision be made on whether or not the wood bleachers in the arena can be sold to the general public? I would like to purchase the bleacher where I have my season tickets. After consulting with our general contractors, it appears the contracts were written so that the construction company will take possession of the bleachers. A good portion of the bleacher wood will be treated and cleaned and used to augment the inside and outside of the Club Room. This will allow us to memorialize the past and incorporate a neat transition from the old to the new. I, along with many fellow Saluki Basketball fans, have wanted for a long time a game with U of I. I have heard rumors that it is not just Bruce Weber that sidesteps a game or series, but also our own coaching staff. Is this true? If so, why? And, why can’t we play Purdue in the future? I think it is suffice to say Matt Painter owes us a game. I can tell you that this isn’t true. We would love to play Purdue or Illinois. We would have to do a home-andhome series, though. We don’t want to play a two- for-one or a straight buy-game. That has always been our philosophy, and I don’t want to deviate from that formula. We will continue to attempt to get into tournaments where we can play BCS teams. In the minds of BCS programs, there is more to lose than gain from playing us. Of

10 l march 2009 l

Is there a reason why we dim the lights in the arena during game play? I think it makes the Arena look like a poorly lit facility, and now that I have graduated and watch the games on television it looks even darker than it does in person. I spoke with Jason King, our Associate AD for Facilities and Game Operations, and he told me that the lights that we dim in the arena are only over the crowd on the upper level. We do this to enhance the main focus, which is the court. Ironically, when ESPN2 was here a few weeks ago, their people mentioned that by turning off those lights, it enhanced the main court and gave a more professional look for the television audience. I see where a number of universities anticipate losing money this fiscal year. How do we stand? Which sports are the biggest money-makers and which ones are the biggest expenses/ losses? We are doing OK. We have prepared for up to a six percent reduction in our overall budget and have made a commitment not to have any of these reductions affect our student-athletes academically or competitively. We are a pretty lean operation, unlike some of the jumbo universities. We don’t have a lot of frills, and our coaches are used to it and don’t feel that we are any less competitive for it. Men’s basketball generates the most revenue by far, followed by football and then women’s basketball. From a business perspective, only men’s basketball would be “turning a profit”

but that sure isn’t different than most of the schools at our level and many Division I football schools as well. Do you have guidelines for retiring a student-athletes’ number? In speaking with Fred Huff our Sports Information Director emeritus, he tells me that jerseys have been retired at the discretion of the Director of Athletics. That’s probably not the ideal method, and now that this has come to light (thanks for the question), we will survey other Universities and come up with some guidelines for the future. At the present time, we have two in men’s basketball No. 52 Walt Frazier and No. 20 Charlie Vaughn, one in women’s basketball, No. 44 Sue Faber, two in volleyball No. 5 Debbie Barr and No. 7 Sonya Locke and three in football No. 78 Jim Lovin who played from 1946-49, No. 30 Jerry Hemphill and No. 23 Harry Bobbitt. Who oversees the activities of the Dawg Pound at basketball games? Is it possible to come up with something more appropriate as visiting team players are introduced? This is the first year we have had a Board of Directors as a student leadership group, which is overseen by our Assistant AD for Marketing and Promotions. I have always thought that students were much more receptive to self-policing than if the athletic department tries to do it. Obviously, we work with the Board and monitor the students at the games, remove signs when appropriate and even remove individuals if they cross the line (of which we have rarely done). Dawg Pound members must sign a sportsmanship code of conduct prior to the season, and while I know their behavior isn’t perfect, they have taken some great strides to incorporate behavior that reflects good sportsmanship, while making it a tough environment for the visiting team.

l march 2009 l 11

Decisions... Decisions By Tom Wheeler

Taylor Poore (left) and Tasha Kill (right)


ast year SIU lost one of the most popular coaches ever when Jerry Kill moved on to Northern Illinois as their new football coach. He took with him his quarterback coach Pat Poore. Both coaches’ families lived in Carterville. Both coaches had children who were athletes in the Carterville system. For Coach Poore’s children it was an easy decision when there was talk of moving, son Trevor an all south basketball player and state finalist in the high jump who was already attending SIU (where he high jumps and throws the javelin) knew he would stay in Carbondale. His sister Taylor, 2008 Lion graduate and a three-year starter in basketball who helped the Lady Lions win over 90 games for Coach Todd Rogers visited her dad’s new home at Northern Illinois but didn’t want to leave the south so SIU was also her choice. It was different in the Kill household for his two daughters Krystal and Tasha. Krystal was finishing her last year of softball at John A

12 l march 2009 l

Tasha Kill tackles tough choices after her dad accepts coaching job at Northern Illinois Logan and had already been admitted to the education department at SIU, planning on becoming a special education teacher. In fact, Krystal and Taylor now room together. But, for Tasha Kill the decision was not as easy; she was finishing her junior year and wanted to graduate from Carterville with her many friends. One of those friends, Rebekah Krones, solved Tasha’s problem when she suggested Tasha move in with her and her parents, Mark and Kathleen. A family meeting concluded with Tasha staying in Carterville for her senior year, a decision that pleased basketball Coach Rogers, as he kept one of his most experienced players. “It wasn’t an easy decision,” said Tasha. “I couldn’t imagine not seeing my dad every night. But it’s worked out. Now, I really appreciate my time with my family. I got up to three of dad’s football games, it’s a lot colder up there and mom (Rebecca) came down often. They both made it to senior night which was pretty emotional; it’s a 5 1/2 hour trip one way. They also drove down to our regional win over Vienna and then drove back again the next night to see us play one of our best games of the year against a very talented Massac County team.” Tasha said the move by her dad has made her somewhat of a road warrior. “I spent Christmas in Huskie Land but had to fly home to our Christmas tournament, where my flight was goofed up,” she recalled. “The second game I was hurt and only played a half. Then the next morning I rode with friends to New Orleans where Dad was in the Independence Bowl and the next day drove back for practice. I covered a lot of miles in those four days”

Tasha has made another important decision when asked about next year. ”I’m going to Northern Illinois and major in education,” she said. “It’s sure a big place but I will know one freshman, A.J. Hill of Du Quoin.” (Hill will play football for Tasha’s dad). Tasha may be heading north, but it’s a certainty that she will be seen on the Northern campus next year in her Carterville garb, and probably in her Saluki gear as well. Tasha’s love for Carterville and her teammates is a prime example that you can take the coach out of Southern Illinois, but you can’t take Southern Illinois out of the coach’s kid.

“It wasn’t an easy decision. I couldn’t imagine not seeing my dad every night. But it’s worked out. Now, I really appreciate my time with my family.” -Tasha Kill

l march 2009 l 13

Around the

horn O

K , so I know I’m a little hard core, but baseball season getting here makes me think about that line from the movie “Gone in 60 Seconds” when Memphis Raines describes what driving a rare Ferrari would be like: “Champagne would fall from the heavens. Doors would open. Velvet ropes would part.” Well, on opening day, whether it’s for the Cardinals or the Terriers, that’s what I’ll feel like. The competition, the strategy, the skill, getting to do what I love doing… driving my rare Ferrari. I’m not much of a technological wizard, but I did get on the cell phone and text several of my friends this past weekend when the first Cards broadcast of the season was on the radio, just to remind them that Redbird baseball was here again. I think Shannon had already had too many frosty, ice cold, um, adult beverages and Rooney was in mid-season form. About half of my buddies messaged me back to say they were already listening. What great friends I have. And the few other friends I have are Cub fans. Maybe it’s just me, but I can never get used to playing baseball in freezing temperatures.

14 l march 2009 l

By Sean Patrick

Baseball is a game that is meant to be played with short sleeves and sunglasses, not long john underwear and toboggan hats. That’s what always amazed me about guys who are able to come from Canada or North Dakota and perform so well at an outdoor game. Take Larry Walker and Roger Maris for example. After all, growing up, their warm season only lasted a few months. I suppose weather is one of those things a player or coach just has to adapt to. In one year, 2003, I remember shagging flies in our Big Ten opener in Champaign against Indiana looking through snowflakes so big I couldn’t see the hitter from the outfield, to three months later needing to learn the signs of heat stroke in south Florida, while wearing black jerseys, tall black socks and all black catching gear. What a contrast. And they say you can’t substitute anything for experience. No kidding, and that certainly includes weather conditions. As for the local scene, as of this writing, the teams already in action are off to slow starts, but hopefully with the weather, will heat up soon. My alma mater the John A. Logan Volunteers, are sitting at 5-4. You can never complain about being over .500, but I know 7-2 or 8-1 would sound much better to Coaches Halstead, Poe, Bogard and Whitecotton right now. The SIU Salukis had a rougher go of it early at 2-6. As an athlete, it’s tough to compete with your skipper on the DL. However, I know that the team will respond under Coaches Henderson and Dixon. On that note, I hope you’ll join with me in wishing Coach Callahan a speedy recovery from a stay in the hospital that has kept him sidelined so far this year. Although I passed up an offer from him to be a Saluki and instead chose Illinois, I have always respected Cal for being such a solid individual both on and off the field. Get well soon, Dan! Make sure to get out and see a game at Rent One Park (Logan) or Abe Martin Field (SIU). You can never get to much baseball, especially in March. Admission to both venues is free. And now more than ever, with baseball season upon us, in the words of the greatest baseball broadcaster of all time, Jack Buck …’Thanks for your time, this time, until next time when we go Around the Horn.’

Faith on the By Roger Lipe


“I’m Straight Rog”


t w a s a cool, overcast day in Springfield, Missouri during the late 1990s when I witnessed one of the gutsiest athletic performances of my lifetime. Karlton Carpenter was in the process of setting the single season rushing record for the football Salukis of Southern Illinois University. Karlton had a deep thigh bruise in one leg and his participation in the game was doubtful. As we gathered for chapel that morning, the room was full of bruises, broken thumbs, strained ligaments, sprained ankles and more. My friend and two time parachute accident survivor, Sergeant Bill McDonald, was speaking at chapel that day and I asked him to pray for our guys to experience the Lord’s healing hand. As Sarge prayed, I laid my hand on Karlton’s thigh and prayed with all that was in me for his restoration. We left for the game not knowing what the day would hold. As the game started and Karlton carried the ball several times during our first possession, I was anxious to hear how he was doing. I walked down the sideline, put my arm on his shoulder and said in his helmet’s ear hole, “How you doing Karlton?” His simple response was, “I’m straight Rog.” That’s all. I said, “Run hard, son.” I asked him again at half-time and again he said, “I’m straight Rog.” I again encouraged him to run hard. The same scenario played out in the third and fourth quarters as Karlton ran for 212 yards on the day, leading us to a hard-fought victory. My heart is grieved by the knowledge that this was one of the last good days for Karlton. A number of health issues have led to a steep decline in Karlton’s life and I sit here helpless to make it better. I cling to this memory of Karlton’s simple trust in his teammates, the power of prayer and how it led him to play his heart out on the football field.

Character and Sport

It has been trendy in the last fifteen years for people to say things like, ‘sports build character.” Some have said, ‘losing is good for a team, it builds character.’ Others have tossed the whole conversation aside as they have seen less than exemplary character displayed by sports people, on the field of competition and off of it. What do you say about the issue of character and sport? As I have competed in sport and worked with those who compete for my whole lifetime, I have noticed that rather than sport simply building character or tearing it down, it tends to reveal the nature of the character in each person and often in a whole team, organization or community.

It’s like the competitors are each being squeezed by the competition. The sport and its situations, stresses and pressures squeeze the player’s heart, soul and mind. Like an orange leaks orange juice when squeezed, so the sports person leaks the true nature of his or her character. When we’re under pressure we’re much more likely to display the weaknesses of our character through our speech, our actions and our attitudes. The opposite is also true. Often the best of our character is revealed when the pressure comes. Otherwise, where would the hero be? What would reveal the champion’s character of perseverance, courage, loyalty and resolve? So what is our conclusion? I affirm that sport and all its pressures reveal the character of each participant by creating points of insight for those who observe. Coaches, parents, teammates and even some fans can see the true nature of the participants in competition. Sometimes it reveals the weaknesses we would all like to keep hidden. Other times it reveals the absolute best parts of who we are and we’re thrilled with the outcome. In either case, let me encourage you to play your heart out and to welcome the testing as a part of your personal development.

l march 2009 l 15

16 l march 2009 l

Man with a By Jackie Myers


t was an inspirational message that led to an inspiration.

That’s what happened when I read Roger Lipe’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes article in last month’s SISC and I started to think about what he was saying about the absence of true leaders in today’s sports. As I pondered what Lipe said, I thought of my beloved Sesser-Valier Red Devils and my to a young man that I feel is one of those true leaders on and off the athletic field. To see Kendall Gibson in public, you would think he was just another high school student/athlete. But when you get to know him you find he is not just your typical high school student at all. Kendall is a young man that loves the Lord and serves him in and out of sports and clearly has his priorities straight. During any given week you’ll find Kendall practicing the sport of the season. Only a junior, he participates in three sports at the varsity level and has since he was a freshman. In the fall you

Plan will find him quarterbacking the football team, in the winter you will find him as a starter and key defensive player for the Red Devils and in the spring you will find him either on the pitcher’s mound or first base. But every Friday morning at 7:15 you can find him at the Sesser Opera House Restaurant with the FCA group from Sesser-Valier. And on Sundays, you only have to look in one spot for Kendall and that is on the third row pew at Hazel Dell Freewill Baptist Church. There you will find him among the teenagers known as ‘the youth group.’ Kendall began serving the Lord at the age of five when he accepted Him as his personal Savior and has continued to serve the Lord since that tender age. I found out from Kendall’s dad, Brian, that Kendall has played basketball since first grade, football since the third grade and baseball since he was 5 years old. To say sports is a part of Kendall’s life is an understatement! But while sports play an essential part in Kendall’s life, the true staying power in his life is his faith. After speaking with Johnny Hollis, Kendall’s youth pastor, I found out something that I pretty much knew already. Ken-

dall is a leader among his youth group. Not afraid to stand in front of his church and speak of how God has worked in his life while on a summer mission trip, participate in youth Sunday services, or sing with his youth group at the annual Harvest Crusade that’s attended by hundreds of Sesser residents. Kendall has proven that he’s not afraid to speak of or show his faith in God. In my efforts to write this article, I spoke with a couple of men that know Kendall on the athletic field. I spoke with Danny Kirk, Sesser-Valier’s basketball coach and John Shadowens, S-VWW football coach. My question to them was simple. “If you could name one athlete that is a leader on your team, who would that athlete be?” They both responded almost immediately with the same answer – Kendall Gibson. If you ever have the opportunity to witness a game Kendall isinvolved in you will see him encouraging his teammates throughout the contest as he cheers them on with his signature hand clapping! As I have watched Kendall play games through the years I know without a doubt if a play doesn’t go his way or he’s called for a foul he might not agree with, you do not have to worry about any foul language coming from his mouth. He handles himself in a Christian manner no matter what the circumstances on the field or floor. These days it seems the recognition from most of the mainstream press is about the ‘stars’ that score all the points or behave badly on or off the athletic field. I thank SISC for giving me the chance to give due recognition to a young man that is a true leader and lives his life as a true testament to the way we all should handle ourselves.

Photo by Chris Kays l march 2009 l 17

From Where


ere in Southern Illinois, Franklin County might best be described as the land of ‘shooters.’ According to IHSA round ball records Sesser-Valier’s Scott Burzynski scored 2,762 points, Valier’s Ted Farmer scored 2,420 points, Benton’s JoJo Johnson scored 2,575 points, Christopher’s TJ Wheeler hit for 2,528 and at Zeigler-Royalton Jimmy Mitchell score 2,561 while fellow Tornado Sean Connor pumped in 2,390. Following the just completed girls’ basketball season one more name can be added to that prestigious list as a virtual scoring machine. Zeigler-Royalton-Christopher’s (ZRC) Lauren Mitchell finished her career with 2,200 points (663 points one season). Veteran CZR coach Art Brandon, who has had his share of great players both boys and girls, handed out the ultimate compliment. “If you coach and have one player in a lifetime like Lauren, you’re lucky. Most people never get to coach an athlete like her,” Brandon said. At the Tornados 61-29 win over Du Quoin in the regional at West Frankfort I watched Mitchell very closely as she scored a team high

18 l march 2009 l

31 points. She won the tip jumping center and moved to the wing on offense. At times she would flash the post, where she looked very comfortable getting the ball with her back to the basket like a true post player. On the wing she would knock down a three or drive to the basket like a true guard. In fact, this is one of her strongest skills, driving and dishing. Twice in this game she went hard to the hole and when she was doubled and tripled team she made great passes. One pass was to junior Alyssa Hall and another one to freshman Allie Mayer. I watched both Hall and Mayer’s reactions to Lauren’s drive; they were ready for the pass. This showed me that Lauren had made this type of pass many times before. It also showed her teammates enjoyed playing with her; she always recognized when a colleague made a good pass, a good screen or a good rebound, you could see she was the “calm” leader. As Du Quoin started pressing, it was Mitchell who became a point guard and broke the In-

By Tom Wheeler dians press. When the Indians started fouling, it was Mitchell who went and got the ball and was getting fouled. That’s another strength she’s a first-rate free throw shooter. Lauren is one of those all around Diamond athletes, as a sophomore she was the starting shortstop at ZRC, as a junior she set a new discus record for the CZR track team. In basketball she was third team all state as a junior, All South and all conference her first three years and team MVP, leading freethrow shooter and rebound leader all four years playing for Coach Brandon. If you have never seen this attractive 5-feet-10inch scoring machine play, make it a point to get to Carbondale’s All Star game April 18 or the Lions Club game at Rend Lake College on June 5. After that, no one is sure where Lauren Mitchell will score her next basket. The other Franklin County gunners ended up playing basketball at SIU (where Valier’s Farmer turned to football and track), Notre Dame, the University of Illinois, Rend Lake and John A Logan College. Look for this hard worker to have the same success. Mackenzie Carpenter

I Sit

l march 2009 l 19

Halstead brings Success, Integrity to

JALC Baseball Veteran coach begins his 26th year at Logan


h e n he took over as baseball coach at John A. Logan College in the fall of 1983 Jerry

Halstead literally started from scratch. No baseballs. No bats. No helmets. Nothing. “That seems like such a long time ago,” said Halstead, a former standout pitcher at both John A. Logan College and Southern Illinois University, now beginning his 26th year at the helm of the Volunteers. “We had to build the program from the ground up.” There was indeed no quick fix for the young coach. Years passed before Halstead could replace the inadequate 10-foot-high backstop; add a batting cage and bullpen; lay a grass infield; and upgrade dugouts and scoreboard. The 1977 Carterville High School graduate struggled record-wise, as well. His Volunteers were a combined 12-34 his first year, which included both the fall and spring seasons. They were 28-31 his second year and 39-39 his third year (1985-86). Since that

By John Homan

time, however, it’s been nothing but winning seasons. Under Halstead’s guidance, the Vols have posted 1,039 wins against 561 losses. Moreover, his teams have captured nine Great Rivers Athletic Conference titles; six Region 24 championships; and two national tournament appearances (1992 and 2002). “We started out with six scholarships, went up to eight, then 12 and now offer 24 tuition waivers, which is the maximum allowed by the NJCAA (National Junior College Athletic Association),” Halstead said. “In those early years, we played 32 conference games in the fall, so we pretty much hit the ground running when school started. I had to make decisions quick and put a team together that I pretty much knew what I was getting. There was no spring training to get ready.” Today, the fall season is a tune-up for the spring season, which features the conference schedule. “I don’t know if I was a quick learner or not, but I’m proud of our success. It speaks for itself.” Halstead said he didn’t set out to coach 25 to 30 years or more.

LEFT: After more than a quarter century and 1,000 wins, Jerry Halstead still has the desire to coach college baseball. 20 l march 2009 l

administrations and boards that backed his program the last three decades. He also noted the faith shown in him by retired athletic director John Sala. Halstead also had an outstanding assistant coach for the last 18 years in Tim Williams, who only this year resigned to accept a new position at JAL. Former Volunteer’ standout Todd Poe of Marion was recently hired to replace Williams. Two of Halstead’s good friends with an extensive baseball background – Doug Bogard and Bruce Whitecotton – continue to serve as volunteer assistants.

Halstead (30) with team at 1992 JUCO World Series “It’s just kind of working out that way,” he said. “I started out as an assistant basketball coach here and helped out with the baseball team. But when the opportunity came along to coach the baseball team full-time, I went for it.” The decision turned out to be not only one of the best decisions Halstead ever made, but one of the best decisions the college ever made. There has been no greater ambassador for the game of baseball. “Jerry’s a classy coach and person. He does everything the right way,” said the conference’s dean of coaches, Dennis Conley of Olney Central College. “When you play John A. Logan College, there are no misbehaving kids, no poor sportsmanship. Believe me, he wants to win as badly as the next guy, but more importantly, he wants to win the right way.” Halstead explained that winning “the right way” means having

his players respect their school, teammates, opponents and themselves. “It’s important for my kids to make it to class on time and be productive, not just on the ball diamond,” he said. “We’re all about accountability here.” Halstead said there are consequences for those that refuse to pay heed to his lofty standards. “They don’t stay around very long if they don’t listen,” he said. “Everyone makes mistakes and if we have a kid make one, he’ll get a second chance. But if he makes a second mistake, he’s gone. We’re not here to babysit anyone. We’re here to educate students and hopefully help make them better people. That’s a reputation we’ve earned and I want to see us keep it that way.” Halstead said he’s not a one-man show. He has had plenty of help along the way, including multiple

The Hall of Fame-bound Halstead said his 1992 team (56-8 spring record and third place finish in the NJCAA World Series in Grand Junction, Colo.) was probably his most talented team. The 2002 team, which included his oldest son, Jason, probably meant the most to the veteran coach from a sentimental standpoint. “We started out 2-16 that year and went on to win 33 of our last 35 games to finish seventh in the nation,” Halstead said. “For my son to be a part of that success makes it that much more special to me.” Halstead said passing the 1,000-win barrier last year is a wonderful accomplishment, but it’s the players that deserve the credit. “I wouldn’t have been able to win all these games had it not been for the many good players and assistant coaches I’ve had over the years,” Halstead said. JALC President Dr. Robert Mees said Halstead has earned his standing as one of the nation’s fin-

l march 2009 l 21

est college baseball coaches. “Jerry’s been at it a lot of years now,” Mees said. “He’s highly respected not only locally but also at the state and national levels. Averaging more than 40 wins a season is phenomenal, especially against the competition he has faced.” Halstead has coached 10 players who earned AllAmerican honors, 14 who are now playing professional ball. He said he remains intoxicated with the game of baseball and has no plans to step aside anytime soon. “As long as I can continue to throw batting practice and hit fungos,”

Third-place plaque from 1992 he said. “When I can’t do that anymore, it will probably be time for me to quit.” Halstead said that while winning is exciting to him, shaping a young

Helmet, cap, ball from '92 team.

22 l march 2009 l

man’s future is even more important to him. “If I have played a small part in bettering someone’s life, I have been successful,” he said. “If I have taught them how to play the game right and how to treat people right, I have been successful. If I have taught them the importance of hard work on the field and in the classroom, then I have been successful. And it means a lot to me to see them apply what they have learned here at the next level.”

l march 2009 l 23

Many Southern Illinois young people overcome big obstacles ‌

Just to be a part of the game 24 l march 2009 l

Photo by Ceasar Maragni

Story by Jim Muir Photos by Ceasar Maragni & Chris Kays l march 2009 l 25


ook around the various venues throughout Southern Illinois and you’ll see hundreds of splendid athletes displaying their athletic abilities. Many have worked hard to hone their skills, others are blessed with God-given talent and in many instances it’s a combination of both.

But, it you look a little closer at the sidelines you’ll also see other youngsters, some with physical limitations, some with learning disabilities, but all with the same love of sports and desire to be a part of the game. So, what happens when a young person’s love for sports, competition and the unity of being a part of a team are strong but they’re met with physical challenges that prevent that from happening? SISC asked that very question to athletic directors and coaches throughout the region and found stories about four young people who, at an early age, learned to overcome adversity, defeat, disappointment, and sidestep setbacks...just to be a part of the game.

“Just because I couldn’t play didn’t decrease my love for sports.”

JALC. DeFrank’s role with the Marion Wildcats has increased since his freshman year when he served as manager. He now does stats, keeps the score-

Nick DeFrank is a young man with a plan. Sitting across the table from the 19-year-old DeFrank he exudes confidence, has a strong speaking voice and clearly has his priorities in order. An outstanding student at Marion High School where he graduated in 2007, DeFrank is on course to graduate from John A. Logan College later this year with an associates degree in accounting. From there DeFrank plans to go to SIU and continue his education. It’s not until DeFrank stands and walks that you realize the obstacles he’s had to overcome during his young life. DeFrank suffered a birth injury when he was born eight weeks premature that left his legs twisted and his gait slow and unsure. “When I was coming through the birth canal there was a brain bleed on both sides and the belief is that there is scar tissue blocking the brain signal to my legs telling them to be straight,” DeFrank explained. “This is the way I am and the way I’ve always been. I take therapy to try and make my legs stronger and I work with a personal trainer sometimes four times a week and I’m better than I used to be, but there’s no cure.” DeFrank has been a manager with the Marion High School basketball team for six year, four while he was in high school and two more while he has attended

26 l march 2009 l

Marion’s Nick DeFrank

book and according to Coach Aaron Mattox, “also does a little coaching.”

with legendary Coach Rich Herrin and two more with Mattox.

“Nick is like having an additional assistant coach, he does stats and is really a jack-of-all-trades, we wouldn’t get along very well without him,” Mattox said.

“They (Herrin and Mattox) both have been very good to me,” said DeFrank. “In fact, it was Coach Herrin who asked me to come back after I graduated. I learned a lot just listening to both coaches.”

To an observer, watching DeFrank walk is painful but his spirit and optimism quickly push any thoughts of pity away.

DeFrank listed former Wildcats players Dustin Kendrick and Charlie Frerking and current players Brandon Woods and Dustin Knight as some of his favorite players. He said he also looks forward to seeing the continued progress of junior Nick Lewis.

“I don’t have time to dwell on what I can’t do and instead I try and focus on what I can do,” was DeFrank’s explanation for anybody that might want to offer sympathy. Despite his physical limitations DeFrank said he’s had a love for sports as long as he can remember. “As a little child I loved sports … sports of all kinds, it doesn’t matter, football, baseball, soccer but my favorite has always been basketball,” said DeFrank. “Basketball has always been, and it still is, my number one favorite. I really love basketball. I grew up watching sports on television but I never was able to play. Just because I couldn’t play it didn’t decrease my love for sports.” Not being a player also didn’t limit DeFrank’s dreams. “I always dreamed that if I did play I would be the type of player like Tyler Hansborough, or at least a household name here in Southern Illinois,” said DeFrank. “I think I would have been the type of player that really worked hard to improve all the time. Being a manager allows me give back to my community and my school and it also allows me to be a part of the team and be around the game, and that’s important to me.” Marion Athletic Director Mike Chornak said the contributions made by DeFrank have been “immeasurable.” “To come back after he graduated high school shows Nick’s desire to help and be a part of the team and his efforts have been a big help to our basketball team,” said Chornak. “I think that by itself speaks volumes about the kind of person he is.” DeFrank said during his six years he has spent four

So, what does the future hold for DeFrank? “I love being around sports and like I said earlier I really love basketball,” DeFrank said. “I really would like to try and coach, maybe at the college level.”

“It’s important to me to be a part of the team” His name by itself makes him unique, but once you meet Carbondale High School’s Thomas Jefferson, well, it might just be a life changing experience. Born with Apert Syndrome, a malformation genetic disease in which the seams between the skull bones close earlier than normal that affects the shape of the head and face, Jefferson has been on the honor roll every semester during his four years in high school. A member of the National Honor Society, Jefferson has undergone numerous surgeries to improve his condition and has already scaled more than a few of life’s obstacles. With an engaging smile that he flashes often, Jefferson doesn’t profess an undying love for sports. It was an invitation to help with freshman basketball by CHS teacher and Coach Mark Albertini that has proven to be a huge plus for the coach, student, administration and the entire school. “I got to know Thomas when he was a student in my class in American History,” said Albertini. “The first day of class I noticed his name and told everybody that we have a celebrity in the room. He’s just a tremendous student, hard working and takes his

l march 2009 l 27

“He just did a great job, he came to our practices, kept the scorebook at our games and worked really hard,” said Albertini. “He noticed the same thing we did as coaches, who was not working hard, who was not touching the line and some of the same kids that were getting on our nerves were getting on his nerves. He’d look at me and say, ‘they’re still not touching the line coach.’ I couldn’t have asked for anything more. I think he would make a good coach, he was seeing all the things we were seeing.” Jefferson takes his role of scorekeeper very seriously and noted that he enjoys the camaraderie of being a team member. “The work I do keeping the scorebook makes me feel important and makes me feel like I’m a part of

BELOW: (L-R) Jefferson, Aaron Grigsby (Jr), Matt Blaise (Sr

Carbondale’s Thomas Jefferson studies very seriously. One day he came up to me after he took a test and told me he was worried that he didn’t do well. He made A’s on every test, and he’s the only kid in the class worried about how he did on the test, that really stuck out to me.” Albertini, a former standout athlete at Murphysboro High School, said during senior registration Jefferson volunteered to be his assistant. “I have 120 students in my classes and I thought it was a great idea,” said Albertini, who also serves as freshman basketball coach. “He helps me out with my freshman social studies class and we were getting ready for basketball and we had 18 kids on the team. We needed help keeping track of everybody, keeping the books, getting basketballs out and we needed somebody we could trust and depend on and the first person I thought of was Thomas.” Albertini said Jefferson soon began picking up on some of the team’s tendencies just like the coaches. 28 l march 2009 l

the team,” said Jefferson. “The fact that I was asked to do it is also very important because it means that people thought they could rely on me. It’s important to me to be a part of the team.” Jefferson has a clear-cut plan for his future that includes four years at SIUC and then medical school at Washington University. “I plan to study to become a medical research scientist,” Jefferson said. After Albertini’s glowing recommendation, Jefferson was asked, ‘what, no coaching?’ “I might be able to work that in too,” he said with a smile.

se (Sr), and Coach Albertini chat prior to practice.

“I just want to be a part of the game” Tyler Lukens, a 15-year-old Herrin sophomore, was born with cerebral palsy that has required the use of a walker his entire life. And while Lukens legs will never allow him to play sports his keen mind is a totally different story. “I’ve just always loved sports, for as long as I can remember,” said Lukens. “It’s all I watch and really all I think about.” His mother, Lisa, echoes those words. “When he was just a little boy sports is all he wanted to watch on television,” she said. “And he has always been very knowledgeable; he knew what players went to what college and then where they went in the pros. Sports is just something that he fell in

l march 2009 l 29

out a bunch. He just does a great job for us.” The elder Lukens said there are many components that goes into making up a team, and all are important. “There are some kids, for whatever reason, that would have been athletes and just didn’t get a chance to play and he’s one of them,” said Irv Lukens. “This is his way of being around the game and his chance to be a part of the team, and he is a part of our team. He really means a lot to our team.” Mike Mooneyham, Herrin athletic director, said Lukens serves as reminder to everybody at Herrin High School that no obstacle can stand in your way if you’re determined and work hard. “Tyler is an inspiration to all of us,” said Mooneyham. “The team has sort of taken him under their wing and when he’s here he always has a smile on his face. I think it’s really important to him, but I think it’s also important for the team. In football he has a jersey and in basketball he wears a warm-up. He’s a part of the team and the other kids treat him like he’s part of the team.”

Herrin’s Tyler Lukens love with as a child.”

When asked what his association means to him on a personal level Lukens answered quickly. “I’ve always wanted to be a part of the team, and now I am,” he said. “I’m a Herrin Tiger through and through.”

In basketball, Lukens keeps the scorebook on the road and keeps stats at home games, noting that both jobs require a great deal of concentration. “This is my first year doing the scorebook,” he said. “I learned early that I really have to stay focused on the game.” Lukens is the cousin of Herrin Tigers Coach Irv Lukens who noted that there is a shared benefit involved in the relationship. “He’s been a manager for us for us for two years and this year we expanded his duties, he is taking care of the scorebook at away games,” said Coach Lukens. “He just loves sports, just loves it. He watches it constantly and knows everything that is taking place on the local level plus the pros and college. This is his way of being involved in sports, but he really helps

30 l march 2009 l

In 2002 Lukens (far right) was showing his favorite colors when the Herrin Tigers brought home a second-place trophy from Peoria.

Lukens stands near his father and uncle, overlooking the JV Tigers warming up prior to their recent game against West Frankfort.

“I wouldn’t trade the world for being able to do this.”

tion of eighth grade coach Mike Kraus. An unusual turn of events led to Williams helping out with the Marion eighth grade basketball team. Williams said he asked Kraus if he could try out for the team as a player.

Armed with a quick and mischievous smile and a gift of gab, A.J. Williams is an 18-year-old senior and a special education student at Marion High School where he has been team manager for four years.

“I tried out for the team but I didn’t make it, I got cut,” recalls Williams.

Williams also deals with some physical limitations including cerebral palsy on his right side. “I wobble sometimes when I walk,” was the way the personable Williams described his condition. Prior to high school, Williams also served two years as manager at Marion Junior High, under the direc-

But, there’s more to the story. Kraus said he gave him the opportunity to try out, but treated him “just like anybody else.” “We have a lot of kids try out so we have to make a lot of cuts every year,” said Kraus. “I always talk to everybody that gets cut and tell them what they need to work on, but when I talked to A.J. I asked him to be

l march 2009 l 31

our manager.” Kraus pointed out that the offer to Williams came with a requirement. “A.J. wasn’t doing very well in his classes then and he was acting up some in class,” Kraus recalled. “From day one after that he was great, his grades improved and there were no more attitude problems and he was at practice every single day, he didn’t miss. He just did a great job for us in junior high.” Kraus said A.J. might have served a bigger purpose with the team than just acting as manager. “He was hard on the team, sometimes harder than me and I think he really helped to motivate them,” said Kraus. “He was brutally honest with the other kids. If you didn’t hustle in practice or if you had a bad game … A.J. let you know about it. He’s a good kid and I really believe helping with the team helped him. I talk to him every chance I get and the last time I saw him he told me he plans to go to college next year.” The excitement in Williams’ voice is evident when he talks about his role with the team. He’s also quick to point out that Coach Kraus called the high school

athletic department and gave a glowing recommendation. “I’m privileged to be able to do this,” he said. “As soon as I got to high school I was put with the freshmen and sophomores and then I moved to the JV and varsity.” Mattox said Williams has carried on his quality work at the high school level. “He just does a great job for us and does whatever we need him to do,” said Mattox. While Williams has left an impression on Kraus and Mattox, the two coaches have also had a big impact on him. “They’re my heroes,” said Williams. “If Coach Kraus hadn’t given me a chance I wouldn’t be doing this right now. And they both have done so much for me and that just makes me love the game even more.” Williams also worked as manager for Coach Rich Herrin before he resigned at Marion and recalled the night that the legendary coach won his 900th game.

BELOW: Marion’s A.J. Williams offers player Steven Sullivan some athletic tape during a recent JV game at Cuss Wilson Gym.

32 l march 2009 l

Manager A. J. Williams, right, visits with injured varsity player Max James “Me and Nick were there that night and I’ll never forget that,” said Williams. “Just a few days before that Coach Herrin told me, ‘you are really doing a good job as manager.’ Now can you imagine a coach like Coach Herrin taking time to tell me I’m doing a good job … I about started crying.” Williams said he has already been told he can continue in his role as manager even after he graduates. “I told Coach Mattox that I was graduating high school and I asked him if he wanted me to come back and help him next year,” Williams said. “He told me that I have a job with him as long as I want it. I wouldn’t trade the world for being able to do this.”

l march 2009 l 33



By Ceasar Maragni

out the ceremonial first pitch to a Redbirds catcher. For those of you too young to remember Mr. Busch, let me tell you a little about the man and his importance to the St. Louis franchise.


or most baseball fans there's nothing quite like opening day at your favorite team's home ballpark. After most of us here in the Midwest have spent yet another cold, dreary winter indoors, those of us who love the game get almost giddy at the thought of that first pitch being thrown to begin another Major League Baseball season. For Cardinals fans such as myself it means a new season, a new team lineup and new hope that the men wearing the uniforms with the birds on the bat might, just might, be good enough to win a pennant and make it to the World Series again. For me it also brings back fond memories of years past and opening days at Busch Stadium. Although I have only covered a couple of these wonderful harbingers of spring as a photojournalist, the ones I did photograph always featured the late great Cardinals owner Gussie Busch throwing

34 l march 2009 l

His tenure as Cardinals owner began in 1953 when he used Anheuser-Busch brewery money to purchase the financially struggling ball club from Fred Saigh, who was pressured to sell the team by baseball Commissioner Ford Frick, following Saigh's conviction on income tax evasion and subsequent federal imprisonment. Although a group of movers and shakers in Houston felt strongly that their prosperous, growing city was ready to step up from minor league baseball to the big league variety, and worked hard to convince Saigh to move the Cardinals to Texas, the Illinois

His business acumen had helped the small St. Louis brewery grow into the largest beer retailer in the world. He also helped transform the Cardinals franchise into one of the most successful operations in Major League Baseball. He was largely responsible for replacing the aging Sportsman's Park on Grand Avenue with the then modern circular downtown stadium, which was the cornerstone of a downtown revitalization project that continues to this day with the even newer Busch Stadium, which is fast becoming From the moment Gussie Busch took over the a fan favorite with a whole new generation of Cardinals he had his eye on a championship. baseball fans. After purchasing the team, he proclaimed, "My ambition is, whether hell or high water, to get a When Busch died in 1989 at the age of 90, a lot championship baseball team for St. Louis before of Cardinals history died with him. And no matter I die." It took a few years, but in 1964 he got his who throws out the "first" pitch on Monday, April wish with the first of six National League pen- 6 against the Pittsburgh Pirates at the newest nants and three World Series titles won during Busch Stadium, it still won't seem quite the same to me as when the crusty little brewer in the red his tenure as owner. hat did the honors. native chose instead to sell to Busch, who he knew would keep the Cardinals in St. Louis. And so just before Saign entered Federal prison to begin his 15-month sentence, he turned down a higher offer from the Texans and handed over ownership of his beloved Cardinals to August "Gussie" Busch and his family brewery. For happy St. Louis fans it was a move that would chart the future of their team and eventually impact the entire city and its downtown landscape as well.

l march 2009 l 35


Journal By Teri Campbell

our fall scrimmage season,” Jilek said. “We played against tough competition and managed lots of extra base hits and home runs.”

Logan Softball Expects Strong Spring Season h e John A. Logan


College softball team opened spring play on March 3. With six experienced sophomores and a host of talented freshmen on the roster, Bruce Jilek, now in his seventh season as head coach of the Lady Vols, has high expectations for his team.

“It all starts with pitching,” Jilek said. “We have a deeper pitching staff this season than we’ve had in the past, which is encouraging. Unfortunately, one of our pitchers, Brittany Ashton (Carterville), is injured right now and won’t be able to throw for awhile, but we have four other quality pitchers who are healthy and taking up the slack.”

Jilek has been particularly impressed with the bat of sophomore second baseman Lauren Buch of Sparta, who batted .513 for Logan last spring, ranking 10th in the nation. Amanda Stroh, a sophomore from Freeburg, and freshmen Lara Runge and Rachelle Runge of Carterville are also swinging well. Nathalie “Dutch” Timmermans from Oldenzaal, Holland, who played for Logan in the fall of 2007 before leaving to compete on her country’s 2008 Olympic team, rejoined the squad in January. A hard-hitting catcher/third baseman, she brings a wealth of experience to the lineup and gives the Lady Vols another powerful offensive threat. Of the 16 players on the roster, 14 hail from Southern Illinois, and Jilek says when recruiting, he always looks locally first. “The past few years, we’ve been fortunate to get some good local athletes who wanted to stay close to home to play ball and they’ve been a good fit for our program,” he said. Jilek believes this team could be the best he’s had in his tenure at Logan. “We have all the ingredients to have a really successful season,” Jilek said. “But our league is very balanced and there are a lot of good teams. We know that we have to work to get better with each practice and game if we’re going to reach our goal of winning the conference title.”

Two of the pitchers Jilek is relying on are sophomores Brittany Hillebrenner of Murphysboro and Kasee Wood from Anna. Last spring, Hillebrenner went 12-4, striking out 108 batters and compiling an ERA of 1.75. Wood won 10 games for Logan a year ago, and had a 1.67 ERA. Two skilled freshmen – Natalie Grant of Johnston City and Pinckneyville product Olivia Pittman – round out the pitching staff. Jilek is also confident in his team’s offensive ability. “We really hit the ball well during 36 l march 2009 l

2008-2009 JALC Softball Team

Baseball Volunteers Hard at Play

The John A. Logan College baseball team began its spring campaign on February 13 and is in the midst of its non-conference slate. The Volunteers, ranked 28th nationally in the NJCAA preseason poll, opened with a pair of road trips to Alabama, and posted a 3-3 record.

Chan Walsh of Elizabethtown, Kentucky, are doing a great job in the role of closing pitcher. On offense, Adamson, an outfielder as well as a left-handed pitcher, and Adam Gliebe, a sophomore infielder from Ballwin, Missouri, are leading the Vols. “Michael and Adam have been

“We’re a veteran squad with 14 sophomores on the roster, and we wanted to start with a challenging schedule so we’d know right out of the gate where we stood as a team,” said Jerry Halstead, 2008-2009 JALC Baseball Team in his 26th year as head coach of the Volunteers. “We learned steady at the plate and hitting conwhat areas we needed to work on, sistently for us,” Halstead said. and those early games helped us “We’re working hard in practice and using these pre-conference establish a pitching rotation.” games to develop all of our playHalstead says sophomore Chase ers into solid contributors both ofJoiner of Hopkinsville, Kentucky, fensively and defensively so we’re Danny Jimenez, a freshman from prepared when we start league St. Charles, Illinois, and Michael play.” Adamson of Freeburg, who transferred to Logan from Middle Ten- While Halstead is working to denessee State University, have velop his players, he is doing so emerged as the team’s starting without the services of long-time pitchers. James Jones, a sopho- assistant coach Tim Williams. Afmore from Barlow, Kentucky, and ter 18 years on the sidelines with

Halstead, Williams resigned to accept another position at JALC. “I miss Tim,” Halstead admitted. “He was my right-hand man for a long time. He did a great job with the players and a great job recruiting. He put a lot of time in helping build this program, and I wish him all the best in his new job.” Todd Poe of Marion has been hired as a part-time assistant coach this season. “Todd is a baseball guy, and I’m glad to have him onboard,” Halstead said. “He played at Logan, and he coached the Southern Illinois Bullets, a summer league team. He’s also an associate scout with the Atlanta Braves, and he operates Future Swings, a baseball instructional school in Marion.” “Doug Bogard and Bruce Whitecotton are good friends of mine and I’m fortunate to have them assist me at practice,” he said. “I’m also glad I have so many secondyear players. They’ve had a year with me already. They know what I want and they’re doing a good job leading the freshmen and showing them the ropes.”

l march 2009 l 37


Turf By Mike Murphy

Confusing isn’t it? On one hand, the feds are pouring billions into failing business giants and domestic automakers to keep them afloat while meanwhile the average Joe & Josephine wait for word about a stimulus check. Economy & Sports t rong indications are coming in that the sports world is not immune to the tough economic times our country is going through. Sports Headlines appear daily that seem to contradict the state of the economy.

Some say the first real signs of the stumbling economy, in terms of the sports world will be seen during the upcoming baseball season. I personally wonder how some teams will make it through the year. I’m sure you have seen televised games and acres of empty seats in Florida, San Diego, Pittsburgh, and Seattle.

“NFL Commissioner takes a twenty percent pay cut as league employees are laid off”

I wonder when we will see the drop in salaries or will it be whole teams just shutting down like the nearly extinct Continental Basketball Association that recently called off the remainder of their regular season.

“Albert Haynesworth signs NFL Free Agent contract with Redskins for $100 million – $41 million guaranteed”

Are the leagues and team owners like the giant dinosaurs that roamed the earth, oblivious to what is happening around them?


“The NBA agrees to terms for loan money to stabilize floundering teams in several markets” “Poshard says SIU staff cuts and layoffs could be ahead calling the economy weak.” “SIU Athletics invites fans to official Saluki Way Groundbreaking ceremonies heralding a new football stadium and renovations to the SIU Arena”

38 l march 2009 l

I shudder to think what it would cost for a family of four to go to a St. Louis Cardinal game. Let’s not even figure in souvenirs, not even one of those tiny bats I got and waved in the car all the way home when I was a kid.

The National Hockey League has some teams about to go down for the third and final time. Take the Phoenix Coyotes, who have been averaging $30 million a year in losses since the NHL lockout. Now even I know ice hockey in the desert won’t work. Just think of having to produce all that ice and then keeping it frozen in that Phoenix heat. Seriously though, I think things could get worse before the bottom falls out. Currently, if you pay a small fee you can watch almost every Cardinal baseball game on cable or satellite. Does that hurt attendance or give the team a wider fan base and attract new fans? What if teams go for a different pay plan to grab more money? Think of the Yankees Yes Network. Don’t laugh, didn’t the Cards just dump KMOX a few years ago after a 50-plus year association and buy a big share of the radio group they moved to?

As far as SIU Athletics, nobody will argue the need for a new football stadium or renovations to an arena that was built in 1964. Granted, it does appear that now might not be the proper time for the multi-million dollar project to get started. However, money has been raised, donations have been accepted and the money is not going to be given back. The money for Saluki Way has been allocated. Sure there are some that say money should be spent on improving academic buildings or keeping staff salaries in line with other institutions of higher learning. The sad truth is, over six thousand fans showed up a few weeks ago to cheer an under .500 basketball team. It attracts attention to the University, the city, the region. A math tournament or engineering conference or even a jazz band performance won’t attract nearly that many. We are in scary economic times. People must make hard choices and tougher ones may be on the horizon. Maybe a few years from now the St. Louis Cardinals will be one of only 10 teams making up Major League Baseball but you will have to pay a hefty price to get the games on the tube or over the radio. Let’s Meet Here Next Month.

l march 2009 l 39


Report By Nathan Wheeler


h i s month I’m going to update everyone on all things athletic at Rend Lake College this spring. Track & Field Rend Lake College will be the team to beat at the upcoming indoor track and field national championships. All but eight members of the men’s team and all but five of the women’s team have advanced and will be in a position to repeat as indoor national champions and secure the college’s sixth and seventh NJCAA crowns overall. The National Junior College Athletic Association’s indoor tournament – March 6 and 7 in Lubbock, Texas – will feature the best athletes from twoyear colleges across the country. RLC has three top-ranked track and field athletes in Jessica Merriweather (high jump), Cory Holman (high jump, heptathlon) and Ryan Bailey (60 meter dash). Bailey is also ranked second in the 200m. 40 l march 2009 l

Wrestling Coach Kevin Tate and the Warriors battled some of the nation’s best at the NJCAA Wrestling National Championships, Feb. 27 and 28, in Rochester, Minn. Two All-Americans emerged for RLC in freshman Eric Ellington and sophomore Matt McLaughlin. Ellington fought through three overtime wins, and McLaughlin injury defaulted to take sixth and become a two-time NJCAA All-American. Those from RLC who wrestled on the national stage were Ellington, McLaughlin, Jimmy Perez of Mascoutah and Lance Day of Jacksonville, Fla. Tate has succeeded in taking his wrestlers to the national championships every year since the wrestling program’s inception at RLC. Women’s Basketball On March 3, the Lady Warriors were entering the Region XXIV Championship Tournament’s opening round against No. 7 seed Southeastern Illinois College. The Ladies from The Lake were the No. 2 seed in the tournament and had beaten SIC twice, decisively, in the conference season. RLC finished the regular season at 21-9 overall and 11-4 in the Great Rivers Athletic Conference. On average, Rend Lake outscored opponents by a dozen (72-60). As a team, they shot 47 percent from the field, 38 percent from three-point range and 64 percent from the free-throw line. RLC’s only losses to conference opponents were two points to Kaskaskia College on Jan. 21, four points to Lake Land on Jan. 31, eight to Lincoln Trail on Feb. 16, and again to Kaskaskia on Feb. 18. KC was set to play a winless No. 8 Olney Central. If the seeding holds true, Rend Lake would have its last shot at the Blue Angels in the Region XXIV championship game. The Region XXIV Tournament opening round will feature four games simultaneously tipping off at 7 p.m., March 3. In other opening round matchups: KC (1) will host Olney Central (8), Southwestern Illinois (3) will host John A. Logan (6) and Lincoln Trail (4) will host Wabash Valley (5). RLC guards Ebony Wilson, Kemmy Dominique and Candyce Flynn were selected for All-Region and All-Conference honors and Wilson was chosen as the league’s Freshman of the Year.

Men’s Basketball The Warriors were readying for the Region XXIV Tournament, March 7 and 8, at RLC. After ending the regular season at .500 and 5-11 in the GRAC, Rend Lake got the No. 4 seed and was set to play Lincoln Land College in the opening round. Baseball After a slow start in Mississippi, 2008 Region XXIV Coach of the Year Tony Etnier and his Warriors won four straight. Cold weather caused some cancellation and rescheduling as the Warriors marched closer to their March 12 GRAC opener, a nine-inning game against Lincoln Trail College in Robinson. Freshman pitcher Freddy Cabrera and shortstop Raymond Fuentes, both from Puerto Rico, were invited to play for the Richmond City (Ind.) River Rats in the high-profile summer Prospect League. Softball The Lady Warriors softball squad kicked off the season Feb. 26 with a doubleheader sweep of

Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Mo. With their March 2 home opener rescheduled for March 4 and the conference season quickly approaching, (March 3 vs. John A. Logan) coach Dave Ellingsworth is looking to sophomores Shannon Harre (Nashville), Jaylyn Jones (Tolono), Kayla Raderstorf (Brazil, Ind.), and Courtney Walter of Chafee, Mo., to lead his young team. Men’s & Women’s Golf The Warriors’ spring season officially started March 2-3 at the Lou Hart Invitational in Meridian, Miss. The women’s program will start the spring season March 29-30 at the Saluki Invitatoinal in Carbondale. Cheerleading The RLC cheerleaders took second place at the Prairie State Challenge, Feb. 28, in Bloomington, Ill. Illinois State University’s 31-member coed squad took first. Rend Lake’s 10 cheerleaders, bumped up from the all-female division to co-ed, beat the 12-member co-ed squad from Kaskaskia College.

l march 2009 l 41



By Danny Czerwinski

event even make enough money to be more than a one year event? With wildly popular Hulk Hogan carrying the main event, the first WrestleMania was an overwhelming success.


hen a new event begins, longevity is something that it hopes to have and getting it to an annual and traditional event on many people’s calendars is sort of “making it.” An event that began as one of those ideas that has now spawned into a world-wide phenomenon is WrestleMania. The idea, the brainstorm of Vince McMahon, has grown into a yearly event that is one of the most prominent events in sports entertainment today but needs to make a visit to our locale in the near future. McMahon wanted to make this event be a salute to the wrestling business but also make it the Super Bowl, Daytona 500, World Series, NBA Finals, etc of the business known as professional wrestling. WrestleMania began in 1985 in one of the nation’s most historical sporting venues – Madison Square Garden. It was a rather risky gamble because no one knew whether or not a pay-per-view event would work. Would fans pay to watch and would the

42 l march 2009 l

Through the years, WrestleMania has been held in various locales. WrestleMania II was held in the three different locations of New York, Illinois, and California. The Pontiac Silverdome saw over 90,000 people file in to see Hulk Hogan body slam Andre the Giant. It has been overseas to Toronto twice, been to Chicago twice, domes, a baseball field, and in 2008 was held outside in the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Florida. One time the event was to be in the LA Coliseum but was moved inside due to security concerns about Sgt. Slaughter trading from his USA character to an Iraqi sympathizer. The First Gulf War was going on at that time which added to the change of venue. Matches upon matches have been memory makers during its time. We’ve had the Iron Man Match, steel cage matches, ladder matches, TLC matches, Money in the Bank matches, Street Fights, tag team matches, title matches, and other such creations from the mind of the WWE. Moments etched in time that have happened during these matches have been replayed over and over. Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels in the 60-minute Iron Man Match which then went into overtime is considered the best WrestleMania match of all time. Ladder Matches bring out the most sounds from fans with the death defying moves of the wrestlers running the gauntlet of metal and heights of falls. The list of wrestlers that have and currently participate is a list of historical names that are etched in the history of the business. Dating back, we look at Andre the Giant losing to Hulk Hogan in WrestleMania III as the torch was passed to the red and yellow Hulkster. Names such as Cowboy Bob Orton, Ted DiBiase, Jimmy Snuka, King Kong Bundy, and Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat became household names in the 1980s. As the 90s came, the WWE stepped up its game. New names came to the forefront. The Undertaker made his debut and he still has yet to lose in the event. Bret Hart, Diesel, Ultimate Warrior, Owen Hart, Razor Ramon, Shawn Michaels, Stone Cold Steve Austin, and The Rock were the highlight names to join those from the 1980s to add to the luster of the event and made

it an event of world proportions. Wrestlers made spectacular entrances as well as entrance music became wildly popular. The 2000s have been a time of new names as well as 2nd and 3rd generation wrestlers getting into the business. Edge, John Cena, Chris Jericho, Kurt Angle, Randy Orton, and Batista came onto the scene to carry the torch of the event. As the event grew, many celebrities came to not only to see the event, sing at the event, but actively participate. Muhammad Ali, Donald Trump, Mr. T., Robert Goulet, Willie Nelson, and many others have gotten some face time. Add to the fact athletes from other sports such as Lawrence Taylor, Floyd Mayweather, Pete Rose, and the San Diego Chicken have participated. The 25th edition of this tradition-rich event will happen next month in Houston, Texas. It will be preceded by the Hall of Fame Ceremony. This event will induct wrestlers into the WWE Hall of Fame for the 5th year in a more public ceremony. Then the big day will happen in a 4 hour spectacle in Reliant Stadium home of the NFL Texans. You either like or dislike WWE and there is no in between. Say what you want about the business and the dark side of it, but this is a business where few people make it big. As a longtime fan, I respect these people who put their bodies and much of their time on the line in order to make it. All other sports have seasons, but WWE is year round. I will be part of a group that watches WrestleMania again this year. I hope I can mark it off my sporting events to attend in the future. In my mind, it is time for the WWE to bring this event to St. Louis, Missouri. The city has a long history of pro wrestling and selfishly speaking would allow me to attend for the first time.

l march 2009 l 43

44 l march 2009 l

Meatball Marinara - Cold Cut Combo - Spicy Italian - Veggie Delite® Black Forest Ham - Oven Roasted Chicken Breast - BLT - Tuna For a limited time at participating SUBWAY® restaurants. Excludes DOUBLE STACKED™ and Premium subs. Prices and participation may vary. Plus tax, where applicable. SUBWAY® is a registered trademark of Doctor’s Associates Inc. ©2008 Doctor’s Associates Inc.

Subpad_5944_EDV_Ad_7.5x4.625_FTP.indd 1

11/11/08 12:42:34 PM

l march 2009 l 45

On the high

Road With Jim Muir

An Old School Guy Embraces Change


written a letter to the editor to the Peoria Journal-Star to offer a thank you.

dmittedly, I’m an old school guy.

And while I clearly have both feet planted firmly in the 21st Century and thoroughly enjoy the advantages of the high-tech world we live in, I’m sometimes slow to accept change in other areas. Perhaps it’s a sign that I’m mellowing with age but in recent years I’ve been able to admit – albeit begrudgingly – that sometimes change is good. Let me give you an example. Back in the mid-1990s I was furious at the idea that the IHSA was even considering moving the boy’s state basketball tournament from Champaign to Peoria. ‘If it’s not broke … don’t try and fix it,’ was the battle cry that myself and other old school guys used as we railed against the IHSA for moving ‘our’ tournament away from Champaign. What about the great memories? What about the great games? Say it ain’t so. But, the IHSA did move the tournament and being a true old school guy I even boycotted the first couple state tournaments in Peoria. ‘I’ll show them (the IHSA),’ I thought to myself. Eventually, I realized that my action was akin to cutting off my nose to spite my face and I relented and ate a heaping helping of crow and headed to Peoria. Even as one of those who whined and complained about it I’ll now be the first in line to say that it was a great decision. I love attending the state tournament in Peoria and for the past several years have been so impressed with the overall hospitality of those who work hard to host the tournament that I’ve

46 l march 2009 l

See, even an old school guy can sometimes admit when he’s wrong. I mention that example today because I’ve heard a few bombs being tossed from the cheap seats recently concerning the new four-class basketball system implemented in 2008 by the IHSA. The arguments I hear from those who favor a move back to the old two-class system is that the tournament is now ‘watered down’ and that some of the thrill of post season play has been lost. Showing that I learned a little from the Champaign-to-Peoria experience, when the IHSA made the announcement that the four-class system would become a reality, I decided to take a wait-and-see approach. In short, I wanted to see exactly how things worked before I formed an opinion. After watching the new system run through for two full years I have to admit that I’m a fan and think the decision by school administrators throughout Illinois to vote in favor of creating four classes was a sound one. And let me quickly douse those complaining about a ‘watered down’ tournament with a cold bucket of water. First, if a four-class basketball playoff system is considered ‘watered down’ then I guess we could say that an eight-class football system is completely saturated and water logged, right? Well, my advice would be to travel to Du Quoin and ask the Indians’ fans if the unprecedented success they’ve enjoyed in Class 3A football is watered

down. However, I would advise anybody asking that question to quickly take a step back because you’ll probably get gang tackled. Or, go to Zeigler and ask folks there if the Class 1A football title they won in 1982 is less prestigious because different classes were involved. Let me save you the trip, because 27 years later it’s still a claim of fame in the community and fans there can tell you in detail about who they went to the game with, what they wore, the weather conditions, etc. Watered down? I think not. And the same can be said for high school basketball. I challenge you to ask the folks in Woodlawn, Okawville, Carrier Mills, Sesser-Valier, Waltonville, Trico and a dozen other Southern Illinois communities if there’s a little something missing when they hang those Class 1A regional, sectional and Elite Eight banners in their respective gymnasiums. I can assure you that the pride and feeling of accomplishment is just as great there as in Pinckneyville or Nashville or other Class 2A school that have had great success on the hardwood. Certainly, old school guys like me love to remember the stories about Hebron and Cobden and remember when tiny schools of 100-plus students played giant-killer and captured the heart and the imagination of an entire state. But, those are memories to be cherished and not relived. And just like the era when gas cost 35-cents a gallon and a soda pop cost a nickel … those days are gone and they’re not coming back. My advice to all the old school guys out there is this: instead of fighting change, embrace it, you might just learn like I did that it’s kind of fun.

l march 2009 l 47

WARRIOR LALANG • 800-meter semifinalist at 2008 Olympics in Beijing • Professional Runner for Adidas • Holds nine RLC records • Studying business accounting • Transferring to SIUC

Want to be a Warrior?

437-5321 •

48 l march 2009 l

March 2008  
March 2008  

Volume 2, Number 8