A vision, a lunch, and a lot of support: How the Blackhawks Alumni Association came to be what it is today
It began as an idea.
A selfless thought by former Blackhawks defenseman Keith Magnuson that it would be nice if the organization's alumni started giving back to the sport they loved so dearly.
So Magnuson set up a lunch with Cliff Koroll and Stan Mikita to discuss how they could make that happen. And from that point on, the Blackhawks Alumni Association was born with the purpose of providing scholarships to the "most deserving" high school hockey players in Illinois, giving to charitable causes and to "take care of their fellow alumni" as they transition out of their playing careers.
Three-plus decades after that meeting in 1987, the NHL bestowed upon Koroll the first Outstanding Alumni Award in a ceremony in Toronto last October.
The 73-year-old Koroll, who was Mikita's right wing and roommate on the road while playing with the Hawks from 1969-80, was full of pride in a phone interview last week after talking about all the association has accomplished.
"It was a very special award because, number one, it was the first time they've given this award to any of the alumni groups," Koroll said. "And secondly it was voted on by my peers -- and it was unanimous.
"It's because of the hard work by all the guys I have on my board. Grant Mulvey, Troy Murray, Reggie Kerr, Peter Marsh, Jack O'Callahan. Tom Dillon (the first scholarship winner) is on there as well. If it wasn't for the help of these guys, we wouldn't get the recognition that we did."
Honoring their future
Magnuson was a huge believer in the association's scholarship program.
It began by giving a single winner -- Dillon -- $1,500 a year for four years. Since then, more than 100 scholarships have been handed out to Illinois hockey players.
"When we first started we tried to figure out where we'd have the most impact with charities in the Chicago area," said Koroll, who is the association's president. "We felt that high school hockey needed a shot in the arm."
And the list of success stories is as long as it is impressive.
Take Michelle Radzik Morgan, who graduated from Lyons Township H.S. in 2001 and was the first female winner. Morgan's dad, who was Deputy Chief of Police in McCook, died of cardiac arrest when she was just 8 years old.
"Keith Magnuson and Cliff Koroll were both father figures to me," Morgan said. "As the first female recipient, I was adopted as everybody's daughter."
After attending the University of St. Thomas, Morgan began her career with the Minnesota Vikings, spent five years with the Minnesota Wild in the corporate sponsorship area, worked for eight years at her alma mater and is now the athletic director at John Carroll University in Cleveland.
She remains heavily involved with the Blackhawks, helping run Stan Mikita Charity Golf Outing every summer. She also took on myriad roles when the Hawks played alumni games at the 2016 Stadium Series in Minnesota and the 2017 Winter Classic in St. Louis.
"I have a knack for organizing and doing events. Troy and Cliff had needed help (with the golf tournament) and I said, 'Well, I'll help, no big deal,'" Morgan said. "So once you volunteer, every year this is what you do. But it's a great way for me to still stay involved and give back."
Which is exactly what so many winners do. Dillon, a 1988 graduate of New Trier H.S., is in charge of the Keith Magnuson Scholarship Luncheon every spring. This year, the winners were Andrew Capuano (St. Rita), Evan Wurzbacher (Buffalo Grove) and Olivia Turman (Lake Park).
Magnuson desired 50 winners by the 15th year, and that feat was accomplished in 2002 when six scholarships were awarded. After Magnuson -- who wore No. 3 for the Hawks from 1969-80 -- tragically died in a car crash in 2003, the alumni chose to honor him by giving out three scholarships a year.
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So how does one win this prestigious scholarship, which now comes with a monetary award of $7,500 per year?
The first criteria is you have to play hockey. How good you are, however, does not matter.
"If they sat on the bench, that was fine," Koroll said. "None of these kids have gone on to play Division I hockey and got scholarships for hockey. ... Hockey ability had nothing to do with our selection process."
Koroll takes 75-100 applications and whittles the pile down to 25-30. Kids are given a score of 1-10 in five categories: Grades, financial need, community service, character (based on letters of recommendation) and two essays. The essay subjects are A) What has hockey done for me and B) Why should I be a recipient?
After the finalists are determined, a group of about 12 alumni members meet in a board room and individually grade each application. The results are compiled and the top scores are revealed.
"It's kind of scary, but more often than not there's three or four kids that come out head and shoulders above the rest of them," said Troy Murray, who is one of the association's vice presidents and played 12 seasons for the Hawks.
Immediately after the winners are chosen, an association member gives them the call.
"The reactions are great," Murray said. "These kids get very emotional. Sometimes you hear the parents in the background and they're jumping for joy. That in itself is very satisfying to hear the excitement in the voices of the kids who were chosen."
Past winners are then encouraged to send notes of congratulations as well as provide updates on how they are doing. Many make it back to the luncheon every year as well. Morgan, for instance, has been to 17 of the 19 since she won.
"I'll tell you what -- the group of scholarship recipients that we have are incredible," Murray said. "And they're great kids. ...
"Everyone who is going through school has an adult mentor, many of which are past recipients.
"To me, personally, it's very satisfying to see a lot of these people get involved in the association; not just take the scholarship and run with it. They are a part of the family."
Scholarship applications can be downloaded each December and must be completed by February 1.
A vision realized
When players finally hang up the skates for good, a cold, stark reality often hits many of them: Now what?
Recognizing this, Koroll, Magnuson and Mikita brought associate members into the fold. We're talking CEOs from McDonald's and Zenieth, as well as executives from White Hen, Mullins Food Products and more.
This kind of foresight has helped retirees find jobs in many different fields.
Koroll himself was a beneficiary, as he became a supplier to McDonald's with Cargill from 1989-2012.
"Without that group, I don't know that we would have grown as rapidly as we did," said Koroll, who has shared the association's bylaws and strategic plan with 18 other NHL teams.
So Magnuson's baby has truly blossomed. It began as a simple idea -- a seed planted at a small meeting all those years ago -- and has turned into a well-rooted foundation that has doled out over $1.8 million in scholarships and found dozens of former players gainful employment.
Koroll also gave some hearty stick taps to his old buddy Mikita, who passed away on August 7, 2018 after a long battle with Lewy Body Dementia.
"Maggie and I talked about it several times that thank God we had somebody like (Mikita) to be in our corner and helping out because of his stature," Koroll said. "I was very fortunate to be his right winger and roommate on the road for 10 years.
"He taught me an awful lot, both on and off the ice. And one of the big things was giving back to the community. Stan was really good at it and he really emphasized that to us, as those are the kind of things we have to do."