Once intense competitors, now best of friends. ‘Fox Valley Basketball Reunion’ is a celebration of game

Retired Elgin boys basketball coach Jim Harrington perhaps said it best.

“It’s great to be seen, not to have people ‘view’ you, but to see you. It’s a good feeling,” he said.

It does beat the alternative.

The chance to see and be seen drew Harrington and 124 others to Pal Joey’s in Batavia last Friday for the second “Fox Valley Basketball Reunion.”

In 2023, retired Batavia coach Jim Roberts decided to hold a get-together over pizza and pop, to tell stories and rekindle memories. He invited coaches past and present, former players, athletic directors, program supporters.

Since the inaugural reunion Roberts knew of nine people in his large hoops circle who had died — “which illustrates why we do it,“ he said.

“No one’s getting any younger, so I thought it’d be a good thing for a gathering of people who made basketball very special in the Fox Valley. Very simple, very laid back, it goes beyond, ‘Who won this or who won that,’ it’s a celebration of each other,” Roberts said.

Thanking Pal Joey’s owner John Hamel for hosting the party, Roberts lined up the podcast duo, “Just a Coupla Guys” — former St. Charles Mayor Ray Rogina and Geneva attorney Pat Crimmins — to record sessions with rotating panels such as an Elgin contingent of Harrington, just-retired Maroons girls coach Nick Bumbales and hall of fame “Friend of Basketball” Dave St. John, who started watching Elgin games in 1951.

  This Elgin trio -- from left, Dave St. John, Nick Bumbales and Jim Harrington -- were interviewed on the Just A Coupla Guys podcast. Dave Oberhelman;

In a side room Batavia graduate Brian LaBoy of Reel Pro Video recorded people such as West Aurora legend Neal Ormond and East Aurora’s Cliff Pensyl. The video would be sent to retired West Aurora coach Gordie Kerkman, now in the state of Oregon; and former Blackhawk Jay Bryant in Florida.

“Just a little piece of home being sent to them,” Roberts said.

Others came nearly as far: Batavia’s Jermery Jenkins, from Arizona; Kaneland’s Chuck Turk, from Arkansas; Geneva’s Al Tison, from Kansas City, Missouri.

“My eighth-grade basketball coach (Bill Olsen) is here,” said Tom Poulin, the St. Charles North boys coach who along with Batavia coach Jim Nazos was among the younger generation there.

Poulin is a 1991 St. Charles East graduate. He called the reunion “a highlight of the year.”

“There’s just people from all walks of life that you have either competed against or gotten to know through the game of basketball — almost everybody here from going back to when I was a young kid and I would get dropped off at the high school to watch the Saints play. Those were my idols growing up,” Poulin said.

Bob Ward, who graduated in 1973 from St. Charles High School and went on to coach at Wheaton North and St. Francis, recalled the “full houses” watching basketball in the Fox Valley. Some of those players were at Pal Joey’s.

“Unbelievable camaraderie,” Ward said. “If you look there’s no real formal program here, it’s just guys getting together and talking, telling stories. Illinois basketball — it’s the stories.”

Yes, the stories...

“Now, I don’t know if they’re 100% accurate today, but they’ll be close,” retired Dundee-Crown and Westminster Christian coach Bruce Firchau said with a smile.

“The main thing is once we were intense competitors or rivals to one another; (now) to see the friendships that have formed. I think that’s one of the best things about athletics, it doesn’t matter what sport, is years pass and those intense competitors or rivals are now the best of friends.”

Up to his old tricks

Lakes senior pole vaulter Paul Migas is on schedule.

On Saturday the two-time defending Class 2A champion won the Windy City Pole Vault Summit indoors at Rolling Meadows at an even 17 feet.

The prior week at Lakes’ own Clash at the Coliseum, Migas set an absolute personal best with a height of 17-0¾. In Charleston last spring he won 2A with an outdoor personal-best of 16-1¼.

  This winter Lakes’ Paul Migas has soared nearly 2 feet higher than when he won the first of his two Class 2A pole vault titles, at the 2022 IHSA state boys track and field championships at Eastern Illinois University. John Starks/

A safe port in the storm

Joe and Sue Etheridge see lots of high school basketball.

Parents of Westmont boys coach Craig Etheridge, they go to his games. Joe Etheridge handles the Sentinels score book on the road. A granddaughter, Brooke, plays at Lyons Twp., and they watch her games.

Joe Etheridge estimates he sees about 35 games a year, and Sue about 50.

They were together at the Class 4A Addison Trail boys sectional semifinal Feb. 27 when shortly into overtime big storms blew through, forcing an evacuation downstairs.

They were impressed with how it unfolded.

“You could not ask for a more orderly evacuation,” said Joe Etheridge, owner of the 102-year-old Busy Bee Barber Shop in Glen Ellyn.

“The high school kids were extraordinarily controlled and fell right into the groove of getting out of that gym and filing into the basement. I was so surprised, it went so, so smooth,” he said.

Addison Trail Principal Jack Andrews credited the partnering Addison Police Department, school resource officers, high school staff and Glenbard North and Lake Park administrators for the operation.

Not only did they have to contend with more than 1,500 basketball fans, Andrews said, Addison Trail also was hosting some 150 College of DuPage students there for a class, more than 20 theater students and about 40 police officers, school administrators, grounds personnel and event workers.

“The cooperation of Lake Park and Glenbard North parents, students, and staff should not go without recognition as throughout the entire weather event they were understanding and patient,” Andrews said.

The Etheridges sat high in the bleachers so it took them a bit to reach the basement. Once there Joe Etheridge, 77, said “a very nice young man” led the couple to a coaches office to sit until the storm passed and the crowd filed back into the gym.

“My hat’s off to them,” Joe Etheridge said. “You hear so many things that aren’t so positive, but boy, when something like that happens and you see so many teachers and administrative people doing what they do, it was awesome. You really feel good about it.”

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