(While I am on hiatus for the next month, I am leaving behind six articles--(July 1) Jamie Brandon, former King basketball star, (July 2) Q&A with Los Angeles Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti, who grew up in the Chicago area, (July 3) thoughts about the 2010-11 basketball season, (July 4) the impact of head injuries on high school football players, (July 5) the rise and fall of Quincy basketball and (July 6) the release of my fourth book, "Dusty, Deek, and Mr. Do-Right: High School Football In Illinois." Please archive past articles. And enjoy the summer)
If you have never witnessed a high school basketball game at Quincy, you don't know what you are missing. Trust me, you've never seen anything like it...not at Lockport or Thornton or Centralia or Rock Island or any other gym that ever earned the nickname of "pit" or "swamp" or "devil's den."
Quincy is special--or at least it once was. Nowadays, old-timers are lamenting what is and what used to be, the dynasty that coach Sherrill Hanks built and coaches Jerry Leggett and Loren Wallace inherited. For more than 40 years, Quincy was one of the most elite programs in Illinois.
Historically, it began even before Hanks. Sam Storby won a state championship in 1934, beating a Thornton team led by Lou Boudreau. In six years, Storby's teams were 115-32, a .782 winning percentage. In the 1940s and 1950s, George Latham posted an 11-year record of 250-80, a .758 winning percentage.
Hanks (354-89, .799, 15 years) arrived in 1960. Leggett (331-77, .811, 14 years) and Wallace (263-86, .754, 13 years) followed.
Since Wallace left in 2003, it hasn't been the same. In fact, Quincy's records for the last five seasons aren't even registered in the Illinois High School Association's record book.
"To be fair, people in the (Quincy) school system did not want another coach Hanks who had all that power and control. Obviously, we know where the program is today," said former Quincy star Jack Kramer, who played for Hanks and is a member of the Blue Devil Sports Hall of Fame and the Illinois Basketball Coaches Assocation's Hall of Fame.
"What is happening in Quincy with basketball is pretty common throughout the Midwest. However, in certain parts of the country such as Texas and with certain sports such as football, communities rally around their high school sports.
"Life is very cyclical and as Quincy High School basketball reached its zenith in the 1970s and 1980s and is now at a low point, the timing might be right for a turnaround. With the current economic climate such as it is and the school system out of money, they might be motivated to return to the glory days and what that meant financially to the school system and specifically the athletic budget."
I made my first trip to Quincy in 1974. I was assigned to write a magazine article on Quincy basketball star Jim Wisman and coach Sherrill Hanks had arranged for a two-day stay in town to interview Wisman, Hanks and others. I still remember the plane flight--from Chicago to Galesburg to Keokuk to Quincy.
And I remember my last two trips to Quincy--to interview Hanks and former Quincy star Larry Moore for my first book, "Sweet Charlie, Dike, Cazzie, and Bobby Joe: High School Basketball In Illinois," and later to interview Wallace and attend a Rock Island/Quincy game for a series on the leading contenders for the state championship.
I never ceased to be struck by the enthusiasm and pride and excitement that the students, alumni, fans and adult community had for the Quincy basketball program. What other school in the state sold 3,200 season tickets? A home game at Quincy was a like a trip to Wrigley Field. The program was first-class and professional and intimidating from the locker room to the television and radio stations that regularly covered the team.
Former Rock Island coach Duncan Reid got it right when he said about Hanks' program: "He built a great program and he wanted you to know it." It wasn't a slap; it was a show of respect. Every high school coach, Reid thought, should have it so good.
Old-timers are distraught over what has transpired in Quincy in recent years. They blame the IHSA for watering down the state tournament by expanding the classes and causing a decline in attendance and excitement. They blame some coaches for not motivating their players and doing their part to preserve the caliber of the program. They blame the athletes for not wanting to dedicate themselves to being the best they can be, as players such as Wisman, Moore, Bruce Douglas and Michael Payne had done in the past.
They also blame Quincy school officials for not supporting the program, for tolerating mediocrity, for allowing the program to decline. They see a lot of empty seats in the gym, a lack of excitement in the program. Across town, at Quincy CBC, they see a winning program, a full gym, excitement, everything they used to see at Quincy High during the Hanks, Leggett and Wallace eras. They wonder if the magic is gone forever.
Kramer recalls when Hanks triggered that magic in the 1960s.
"He did three things," Kramer said. "He built a program and he did it based on his abilities, his political skills and the help of the right people who all had the same goal."
1. Players. Hanks put a good product on the floor. He developed players from the ground up, personally supervised an open gym five days a week in the summer, conducted the four-week-long River City Basketball Camp, taught the fundamentals of basketball. "Being a basketball player meant something," Kramer said.
2. Administration. The leaders in the school administration wanted a successful basketball team. Hanks developed strong relationships and friendships with the administration. As athletic director, he had allies who supported basketball. He filled a need by making money for the school and the athletic department.
3. Community. "In those days, it meant something to go to Quincy High basketball games and to be part of coach Hanks' inner circle," Kramer said. Hanks developed relationships with business leaders in the community, who donated money to the program, attended games and brought their friends. In Quincy, a season ticket was a status symbol.
"Coaches who came after reaped the benefits of the groundwork that was laid by Hanks but they did not build on it in the same way," Kramer said. "Their camps were only two weeks long and their assistants ran open gym and many times did not show up, leaving the gym lockd and the players with nowhere to play. They did not develop relationships in the community or in the administration."
And now, it appears, Quincy is paying for those mistakes.