In a recent blog, Jack Bastable was included on my list of the best high school football players I have seen in the last 50 years. Some readers said: "Who?" Bastable, a Wheeling graduate of 1969, isn't widely remembered by many people outside the Mid-Suburban League. But he should be.
Bastable certainly is well remembered by legendary columnist Bob Frisk, who covered high school sports for the Daily Herald in Arlington Heights for 50 years, and Jim Millay, who was Bastable's classmate at Wheeling.
Frisk described Bastable, a three-sport star, as a "fierce competitor" and rated him ahead of Barrington's Dan Pohlman, Arlington's George Bork and 13-letterman Bill Robinson of Arlington as the best player he ever saw. By most accounts, Bastable was the best athlete ever produced in the Mid-Suburban League.
Millay recalls that former Wheeling basketball coach Mike Owens, who starred at Galesburg High School and Bradley University, said Bastable was the best athlete he had ever seen. Bastable excelled in football, basketball and baseball in high school but Millay insists he had even more potential in tennis and soccer.
Bastable grew up in St. Louis, a soccer town. He said soccer was his first sport but admits tennis was his love. But tennis wasn't a major sport in high school and he had a passion for team sports. His goal was to be a major league baseball player. He went to Missouri on a football scholarship but also played baseball.
A third baseman, he was drafted by the Oakland A's out of college. He spent six years in AAA. His agent was Jim Bunning, his minor league manager. Finally, he went to work for former major league catcher Bob Boone in the fitness business. Today, he lives in Overland Park, Kan., and works for a benefits consulting firm. His specialty is health and productivity management.
Bastable recalls when he was growing up, coaches didn't stress specialization. They didn't pressure athletes into concentrating on one sport. And Bastable never thought about specializing in one sport. He thought about football in the fall, basketball when it got colder and baseball in the spring. To him, that was the natural order of things.
"Baseball was the sport I had most fun in," he said. "But high school basketball was more fun. That's when school spirit caught stride. Baseball was my best sport, the one I was most gifted in. Football practice wasn't much fun. But the thrill of Friday night games and the lights and the excitement was fabulous. But I never got tired of shagging balls or taking ground balls or taking batting practice in baseball."
It is hard for Bastable to understand why kids don't play two or three sports today, why many choose to concentrate on one sport on a year-round basis. As a youngster, he was inspired by the Chip Hilton books, which highlighted the exploits of a three-sport star.
"I think there is potential to get imbalance when you miss out on well-rounded experiences from other sports," Bastable said. "Today, there is too much peer pressure for kids. And coaches are so competitive now. Being a three-sport athlete allows you not to get burned out.
"I liked change. It was in my personality. I didn't like doing the same thing over and over. When the baseball season was over, I felt it was time for football. I was ready for it. It invigorated me. I never felt pressure that I should be playing one sport more than the other. I didn't feel I was losing an edge, that I had to keep up with the Joneses. I didn't have that kind of peer pressure back then."