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IBCA looking for oral histories

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IBCA looking for oral histories

Bruce Firchau hasn't had so much fun since he caught a 26-pound lake trout near the Arctic Circle a few years ago.

"I have the best of all worlds," Firchau said. "When I retired in 2005, I wondered what bowling league I'd be competing in. What was I going to do? But I still enjoy coaching and fishing for a month in Canada and Minnesota and doing my work with the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association."

Firchau has coached basketball for 35 years at eight schools, the last seven at Westminster Christian in Elgin. He also is a rabid fisherman. He has caught 49 Northern Pike over 40 inches long, but none bigger than that lake trout in 2005.

Now he is engaged in another project. As chairman of the IBCA's Hall of Fame Museum in Danville, he is gathering oral histories from former coaches and players to recall the great games and moments of Illinois high school basketball. So much for retirement.

"It's a dream come true," Firchau said. "I visited other museums and one thing that I noticed is the great museums had oral histories. You can listen to the voices telling the stories that took place, the people who were there when it happened, the great games.

"With all the great players and coaches that have been a part of high school basketball in Illinois, the window is closing fast. Then it will be gone forever. We need to record the stories of the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. We need to record as many of the old-timers as possible."

Firchau has launched this ambitious project with the help of retired coaches Ken Crawford of Teutopolis and Ken Wierzba of Farmington and veteran coach Mike Bailey of St. Patrick.

They interviewed their first subject, Dick Triptow, on May 1. Triptow, who will 90 on Nov. 3, is a Lane Tech graduate who had a great career at DePaul. He was a senior on Ray Meyer's first team. He played in the early days of the NBA and played with George Mikan on the Chicago American Gears' NBL championship team in 1947. He coached Lake Forest College's basketball team from 1959 to 1973.

Also on Firchau's agenda area former Quincy coach and Waukegan administrator George Latham and Phil Judson, one of the stars of Hebron's 1952 team that defeated Latham's Quincy team for the state championship in one of the signature games in the history of the Illinois high school basketball tournament.

In upcoming weeks Firchau plans to interview Ann Penstone, longtime television announcer of the girls state basketball tournament; veteran girls coaches Carol Plodzien of Fremd and Pat Kennedy of Hersey; and Chuck Rolinski, longtime basketball coach at Toluca, one of the founders of the IBCA and father of the two-class basketball system.

He plans to travel to Decatur to do research on legendary Decatur coach Gay Kintner. He will interview the widow of Harold Baker, one of the stars of Kintner's 1936 state championship team, the manager of the team and Lisa McCubbin, Kintner's great grand-daughter who is completing a book on Kintner.

Firchau has talked with Teddy Eddleman, widow of legendary Centralia star Dike Eddleman. He is planning to talk with a college professor who is working on a book on the history of Wharton Field House in Moline. And he has talked to Lincoln coach Neil Alexander about the ball-press defense.

He also intends to interview retired Blue Mound coach Dick McDonald about small-school basketball, former Thornridge coach Ron Ferguson and the widow of former Centralia basketball player and Elk Grove football coach Don Schnake, who wrote a book on his former coach, Centralia's Arthur Trout. As a junior high school student, Schnake kept a scrapbook on Centralia star Dike Eddleman.

This summer, Firchau plans trips to Taylorville, Collinsville, Centralia, Mount Vernon and Cobden. He hopes to talk to former Taylorville stars Ron Bontemps and Johnny Orr, the widow of the late Collinsville coach Vergil Fletcher and former Collinsville star Bogie Redmon. He also hopes to talk to Chico Vaughn, who set an all-time career scoring record in the 1950s at Tamms that still stands, and old-timers who were coaching when the IBCA was founded in the 1970s.

That's not all. The IBCA Hall of Fame in Danville also is planning to include a visual library of as many state championship game films as they can uncover. Firchau already has the 1952, 1955 (six points in one second), 1961, 1965 and most of the finals since 1970. The 1947 ParisChampaign game has been promised. So has the controversial 1954 final between Du Sable and Mount Vernon.

Another fascinating film is Galesburg's 23-21 victory over Rock Island, the famous slowdown game, in the 1957 sectional final at Wharton Field House in Moline when Galesburg, led by Al Williams, Doug Mills and Elbert and Albert Kimbrough upset a highly rated Rock Island team featuring junior Don Nelson.

Another subject he plans to address is segregation, the all-black schools in the south, how the state tournament was before it was integrated in the 1950s, the people who helped to change the face of the game.

Another issue that Firchau hopes to resolve is a matter pitting Canton and the Illinois High School Association. Canton contends that during legendary coach Mark Peterman's career, he had a player who participated in four consecutive state finals from 1923 to 1926.

But there is no known documentation on the subject because, in those days, unless a player scored or made a foul, his name didn't appear in the official scorebook. Peterman claimed the youngster played one second as a freshman. But there is no evidence to confirm Peterman's claim.

"What is interesting is how the game has changed, how the officiating has changed," Firchau said. "There is so much athleticism now.

"I'm having a ball doing this project, going around the state, meeting all kinds of people, reliving the past, recalling old memories of great players and coaches and teams."

Cubs camp observations: Wrigley's home-field advantage without fans

Cubs camp observations: Wrigley's home-field advantage without fans

Four days into the Cubs’ training camp restart, we’ve only begun to get acquainted with the new normal of baseball rhythms and routines that we can only hope will result in a 2020 season of 60 games.

If the league can fix some of its early testing issues and keep enough players on enough teams healthy enough to start the season, what might come into play for the Cubs and the actual baseball.

Early observations after about a dozen Zoom sessions with team personnel and two intrasquad scrimmages:

NUTS: Home cooked?

The Cubs, who draw so reliably in one of the unique ballparks in the majors, might have more to lose than most teams without fans allowed to attend games when the season starts July 24.

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Just how much of the Confines’ home-field advantage is lost will be a matter of “wait-and-see,” manager David Ross said.

“There’s always an advantage to playing in your own park,” he said Sunday. “You feel more comfortable you woke up in your own bed. You’re not staying in a hotel room, which especially now, where you feel like outside spaces just aren’t comfortable as they used to be, probably [gives] a slight advantage in your city.

“There’s no substitute for fans,” he added. “There’s probably a slight advantage, but I don’t know if it’s as great as it used to be.”

What Ross didn’t mention were the rooftops across Waveland and Sheffield, which are planning to operate at 25-percent capacity when games start, suggesting at least a few hundred fans within cheering and booing distance.

“You’re going to hear them loud and clear, too,” pitcher Tyler Chatwood said. “I promise you that.”

BOLTS: Taking the fifth

All you need to know about Alec Mills’ ability to adjust and immediately step into an important role is what he did in an emergency start against the first-place Cardinals at Wrigley last year with the Cubs a half-game out and barely a week left in the season.

He hadn’t started anywhere in a month — and that was in the minors. But the guy who pitched out of the bullpen just three times in the four intervening weeks, pitched two outs deep into the fifth inning that day and didn’t allow a run (the bullpen took care of that, in a loss).

No wonder when Ross talks about Mills replacing the injured Jose Quintana (thumb) in the rotation, he says, “I’ve got a ton of confidence.”

He’s not the only one. “I’ve always had the mindset of doing whatever I can to stay ready and help in any way,” said Mills after pitching a strong three innings in a simulated game Sunday. “Obviously, with an unfortunate injury like this, I think it’s just even more heightened.

“I’m ready to do whatever, whether it needs to be maybe a start here or there, a couple more starts, long guy out of the pen — just whatever I need to do I pride myself on being ready to do that.”

CHATTER: The mask at hand

“It’s a little different. You leave the house with a phone, your keys, your wallet and your mask.”

—Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo on his and his teammates’ new daily normal.

“Everybody is thinking about it, but we try to get here and understand this is our safe zone and we’re trying to create that [within] the things that we’re going to do on and off the field.”

—Ross on players weighing the risk of playing during the pandemic against the safety precautions and protocols the team has built in and around its Wrigley Field bubble.

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2020 MLB schedule: Chicago Cubs, White Sox could benefit from short trips

2020 MLB schedule: Chicago Cubs, White Sox could benefit from short trips

Both the Cubs and White Sox may benefit this season from the unique MLB schedule which will have all clubs play regionally, instead of across their leagues. Since the A.L. Central and N.L. Central teams are all fairly close, and Chicago is practically in the middle of the action, both the Sox and Cubs will rank near the bottom for miles traveled over the course of the regular season, according to MLB Network.

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During their 2020 schedule release show, MLB Network displayed a graphic saying the Cubs will travel the second-fewest miles at 4,071 and the White Sox will travel sixth-fewest at 4,750 miles. It’s important to note that may not give them an edge in the regular season, as the other teams to round out the list are all Central division opponents as well: the Brewers, Tigers, Cardinals and Reds.

But when it comes time for the playoffs, that rest may pay off-- especially if either team faces off against a team from the West. All of the top-five teams for most miles traveled come from the A.L. and N.L. West, ranging from 11,332 miles traveled for the Rockies to a whopping 14,706 miles traveled for the Rangers. In a condensed season, with significantly less rest, that long travel could take a toll.


RELATED: White Sox schedule release: Slow start not an option with brutal first week

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