By Joe Henricksen
The resignation early this week of Batavia coach Jim Roberts was heard loud and clear throughout Batavia, the Aurora area and up and down the Fox Valley region. When you combine the longevity and impact Roberts and Batavia basketball has had over the past quarter-plus century, it's a big loss to that basketball community.
With Roberts, it's more than just the impressive 455-267 career record at Batavia. It's more than the 10 teams that won 20-plus games and the memorable 1991 team, led by star Corey Williams, that reached the state quarterfinals and finished 27-2. It's more than the 27 years he spent as head coach of the school he graduated from and more than his induction into the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame last year.
Roberts is the quintessential high school basketball coach in every facet. I saw it as I personally played against his teams in the late 1980s and I've seen it throughout the 17 years of following Batavia basketball as the editor and publisher of the City/Suburban Hoops Report. The phrase "class act" is loosely thrown around, but there is no better way to describe Roberts, who is as genuine, humble and passionate as they come.
Roberts could write a how-to book on building and maintaining a basketball program while generating true excitement and enthusiasm throughout a basketball community. This is a coach that created memories, both for himself and everyone involved in Batavia basketball. Roberts generated something special over the last 20-plus years at one of the more underrated basketball programs in Illinois. He lived Batavia basketball. He did all the little things -- and big things -- in helping promote Batavia basketball and helping his players.
The well-respected coach would take his players to every part of the state to experience different basketball cultures, atmospheres and competition. In the summer he would take his players to a park to play in the city or in an open gym in the south suburbs. The Bulldogs would travel to legendary Quincy for a non-conference game. They would bring in a King, a Simeon, a Peoria Central, a Proviso East or a St. Joe's to Batavia. They would match up locally with Aurora powers like East Aurora and West Aurora when they could. The Bulldogs would play anyone and anywhere at any time.
There is the annual golf outing Roberts puts together each summer that brings out past and present basketball people from Batavia and beyond. He would bring in guest speakers to talk with his current players and youngsters in the district at his summer basketball camps. There is the annual Batavia Windmill Classic at Thanksgiving to tip off the season each year.
There was the highly-successful Batavia Night of Hoops that Roberts kickstarted 19 years ago. The event, which the Hoops Report has been associated with for many years as a sponsor, has consistently been one of the premier nights of basketball every winter. In addition to the big-time matchups and talent, the community and high school wrapped itself around the event to help make it truly special.
Sure, there are coaches out there in this state who really like high school basketball, dink around with the history of it and discuss it as part of their job. And then there are coaches like Roberts. He absolutely loves high school basketball. He especially loves Illinois high school basketball and all the history that goes with it -- from the historical teams, players, coaches and stories that have unfolded and been told.
Through the many phone conversations centered around basketball that I've had with Roberts over the years to the many nights sitting in bleachers watching a shootout, Night of Hoops or holiday tournament game with him, the basketball talk and knowledge will be missed. I've been fortunate. But the people and players of Batavia have been way more fortunate over the past 27 years.