The Chicago area recently lost two of the most prolific high school basketball players in history, Gene Jendra of Chicago Vocational and Chet Strumillo of Morton in Cicero. Old-timers recall their feats with awe. Strumillo was an All-Stater while leading Morton to the 1941 state championship. Jendra was a two-time All-Public League selection in the 1950s.
Strumillo died on July 27. He was 86. In 1941, as a junior, he captained coach Norm Ziebell's Morton team to a 23-4 record and a 32-31 victory over Urbana in the state final. His teammates included Ray Leitner, Joe Demkovich, Bob Hoffman and Fred Ploegman.
In the semifinals, Morton scored one of the major upsets in tournament history, edging Dike Eddleman and Centralia's celebrated Wonder Five 30-29. It was only Centralia's second loss in 46 games.
Strumillo was inducted into the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association's Hall of Fame in 1975. After one year at Illinois, where he captained the freshman team, he was drafted into the Army. Upon his return, he enrolled at Northwestern, captained the basketball team as a senior and played against the Harlem Globetrotters in Chicago Stadium.
He is survived by his wife of 57 years, Marianne, sons Carl and Don, daughter Carol and five grandchildren.
Jendra died on July 3. He was 74. In an era when Chicago Public League schools rarely received statewide recognition, he was a first-team all-city selection as a junior and senior. He was named to the Public League's Hall of Fame in 2008--at the same time, his 1952 junior team that won the city championship also was inducted--and he was named to the IBCA's Hall of Fame in 2009.
He led coach Paul Erickson's CVS team to the junior title in 1952, averaging 23.8 points per game. He scored three baskets in 12 seconds to beat Gage Park in the city final. He also scored 43 points in one game against Bowen while his future wife Leona, a Bowen student, was watching from the Bowen section. His team beat De La Salle 51-50 for the city crown in Chicago Stadium.
As a senior, Jendra led CVS' senior squad to the city semifinals. He averaged 30 points per game and finished second in All-Public League scoring for the second year in a row. In two years, his teams won 27 of 28 games.
Jendra, who was 5-10, never attended college. After high school, he served in the Army from 1954 to 1956. He was stationed in Little Rock, Ark., and was so impressive in Army basketball competition that the University of Arkansas offered a scholarship. But he wanted to get married. He and Leona were married for 53 years. He operated an auto body repair shop at 69th and S. Ashland for 43 years.
He is survived by his wife, sons Kevin, Bryan and Tim and seven grandchildren.