By Steve Robinson | December 1, 2018 - 7:57 am
Posted in Category: The Normalite

Kentucky has one. Indiana has one, too, and Minnesota is in the midst of putting one together. So is Illinois. What these states either have or are trying to assemble memorabilia for is a High School Basketball Hall Of Fame. Illinois’ is in the works, planned to be located in Pontiac. And the 1,500 plus wins Normal Community High School’s boys’ basketball team has accrued over the decades would be considered worth noting for being added to this new shrine.

Steve Allen, a member of Illinois Basketball Coaches Association’s Board of Directors, Bill Kemp, librarian for the McLean County Museum of History, and Milan Jackson, a volunteer with the Museum, made fans aware at halftime of Normal Community High’s boys’ game against Peoria Notre Dame Nov. 30 that their team’s total number of victories over the decades assures the team that those collecting every nugget of basketball history in this state would want to include this milestone.

“Anybody who plays basketball, we’re hoping to have something from every school added to the Hall of Fame,” Allen said. “There will certainly be historical lists and information. Normal Community has a great history and they’ll be in the Hall for sure.”

The museum “has had great responses” for things folks think ought to be included within it, Allen explained. “We get more information than we’re probably going to put in at one time.” Reaching the 1,500 win plateau qualifies NCHS for recognition within the Museum with other schools getting that far.

“There are not many schools who’ve done that and we want to demonstrate to those schools that we acknowledge their success,” Allen said.

NCHS basketball history would appear to fill its own building if it could be built, it appears. When Allen made the announcement regarding the new Hall Of Fame, the crowd of roughly 400-450 fans in NCHS’ large gym cheered.

There were a number of former Ironmen players invited to the PND game to bear witness to Allen’s announcement, and not just from recent years. Meet Hudson resident Robert Whitwood, who played for the Ironmen in 1958. In his playing days, under Head Coach Fran Somers, Whitwood was a forward in an era when the game was very different than it is now.

“I was considered tall back then,” Whitwood said. “I’m 6 foot-2.” The game has changed drastically since Whitwood’s years on the court. There was no 3-point line back then, and rather than taking the ball in-bounds after an opponent scored, there was always a jump ball for possession.

Whitwood said the pace of the game sped up after his playing days were over. “When we played, we tried to set up plays that resulted in baskets,” he explained. “There’s a lot less ball-handling now than there was then.”

To show how things have changed, Jason Lay, who played forward and center for Ironmen head coach Tom Eder from 1989-1991, said the change he noticed that didn’t happen in his day include things he said would have gotten him and his teammates in Eder’s doghouse back then. “A lot of kids watch ‘SportsCenter’ on ESPN and want to make plays instead of doing what’s right and doing other things to win games.” Lay recalled that “using an entire team to run an offense” was a positive item used in his playing days.

Former Ironmen player Brian Metz has been fortunate enough to see the tradition of players see their children play for the team they did. A 1983 graduate, Metz was a shooting guard when he played under Head Coach Joe Hawthorne. Metz’s son, Austin, is a sophomore and carrying on the family name when he takes to the court.

Metz said his team won 34 games when he played and he has tried to put that into perspective when you size it up as part of a 1,500 plus win ledger.

Tyler Vance, a 2015 graduate who played for current Head Coach Dave Witzig, was a point guard who got to and lost in a State Championship. “We were trying to get as far as we could,” Vance said. “We had a really fun year and we were able to be Chicago Simeon in the Super Sectional game, and we took it a game at a time ‘til we got that spot and lost to Stevenson in the title game.”

Jeff Collins played shooting guard for NCHS from 1979-1981 under Hawthorne. His years saw the team only get as far as Regionals each year he played winning one and losing one. He spends his off-hours serving as historian for NCHS’ Alumni Association. Collins probably should have a chat with Hall Of Fame organizers because Collins mentioned that when Randy Smithson was an NCHS student in the 1980s, he most likely set the record for the most wins by a player at the school. That would be 83 wins by Collins’ tally in remembering the son of then-Illinois State University head basketball coach Gene Smithson.

Beating Bloomington for the Regional championship is a memory Collins said he carries with him to this day.

I don’t know how many of the former players who were invited to attend the Hall Of Fame announcement showed for it. But there has to be a grapevine or network that will get word to them all, and no doubt they will have input on things that could be or should be added to the Hall. I will keep tabs on the Hall and hope in a future column to bring you some more information about it.

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