Bill Chesbrough was born in Connecticut, went to high school in New York and earned a football scholarship to Syracuse. He associated Elgin with watch factory until he was serving with the Navy at Great Lakes in the 1940s and attended a sectional basketball game in Waukegan pitting Elgin and Downers Grove.
"The enthusiasm of the crowd excited me," Chesbrough recalled in an interview in 2002. "Elgin was a high class team. I said that I would like to coach at that school one of these days. As it turned out, I was in the golden years of Elgin basketball."
Chesbrough, whose coaching salary never exceeded $900 a year, never lost his enthusiasm for the game. One of the most successful coaches in Illinois high school basketball history, he died Monday after a long illness. He was 92.
As head coach at Elgin from 1950 to 1985, dressed in his trademark red socks and bowtie, his teams won 573 games. Ten of them qualified for the Sweet Sixteen. His 1954-55 team finished second in the state tournament in one of the most bizarre finals of all time. Three other teams advanced to the state quarterfinals.
"He was a great coach and a great motivator," said Ron Weisner, a 1950 Elgin graduate who was a close friend for 61 years. "Every player loved him. He was never intimidated. Everyone had a great respect for him. My only regret is I never played for him when he was the head coach."
Marshall Friedman, a 1953 Elgin graduate who also knew Chesbrough for six decades, recalled how Chesbrough critiqued the referees while they attended a game only two years ago.
"At 90, he was still the coach. He never lost his great passion for the game. He loved the challenge of taking young kids and teaching them the game and turning them into better young men as well as players," Friedman said.
"Despite his success and fame, he was a down-to-earth guy who loved to talk to people. He was a terrific people person. But he could be tough on the floor. He would bench a kid on the spot who wouldn't do what he wanted him to do."
Chesbrough's all-time team? Weisner, Flynn Robinson (1959), Glen Lose (1953), Gary Kane (1957) and Willard Schuldt (1951).
Other outstanding players Chesbrough produced during his 35-year career were Rick Sund, Terry Drake, Jay Geldmacher, Chuck Brandt, Dick Becker, Gary Smith, Paul Hudgens, Rick Hopkins, Terry Mayfield, Mark Baugh and George Clark.
"He was ahead of his time," said Sund, now general manager of the Atlanta Hawks in the NBA. "His offensive schemes were ahead of their time. He was to the point, a general. You wanted to play for him, you wanted to perform for him because you wanted a pat on the back. He could have been a very successful college coach if he chose to do that."
Robinson, who played for Cincinnati, Chicago, Milwaukee and Los Angeles in the NBA, credits Chesbrough "for me reaching the high level that I did reach. When I was playing for the Bulls, he arranged for three busloads of Elgin fans to come to our game."
"He was my mentor. He was way ahead of his time," Robinson said. "He used to film our games. He got us on weights. He stressed that the most important thing was to help make the players around you better. He was teaching that stuff in the 1950s. He was very well organized. All the players had to do was implement what he taught and they would be successful."
Chesbrough said his 1957 squad, led by Kane, Brandt, Becker, Ted Tammearu and Phil Sokody, was the best he ever produced. It was 21-0 and ranked No. 2 in the state after the regular season, beat powerful Bloom 53-52 in the supersectional, then lost to Herrin in the state quarterfinals.
His 1973 team wasn't bad, either. Led by 7-footer Jeff Wilkins, Drake, Geldmacher, Tim Jones and Tom Koch, the Maroons lost to West Aurora in double overtime in the state quarterfinals.
Chesbrough also was involved in the most memorable and bizarre incident in the history of the state tournament. West Rockford scored six points in one second and went on to beat Elgin 61-59 for the 1955 state title.
"That was the biggest disappointment of my career," he said. "You don't forget those things even 40 or 50 years later. You remember the tough losses more than anything else."
Lose, who later played at Northwestern, said he never saw a coach who was as well prepared for a game as Chesbrough was.
"He lived and died with scouting reports," Lose said. "He was famous for his notebook, an old-fashioned brown spiral notebook that he held in his hand and took notes constantly during a game. He would send two or three scouts to a game to take notes on every aspect, even personal characteristics."
After being discharged from the Navy in 1945, Chesbrough chose to stay in Chicago. He worked for the park district. When the Elgin coaching job opening up in 1949, he applied. He served as assistant to John Krafft, then became head coach when Krafft retired in 1950.
"I got acquainted with Elgin's tradition real early. It was a basketball town that won two straight state titles in the 1920s," Chesbrough said. "What I wanted to do was continue the tradition of the school and be as good or better than Krafft was as a coach. I had some wonderful players who kept the tradition going."
Chesbrough recalled that every game was sold out in the old gym, dubbed the Snakepit, in the 1950s and 1960s. Then the new high school was built and Chesbrough's teams began playing in the new fieldhouse in 1972. The facility was named in Chesbrough's honor in 1986. He also was inducted into the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association's Hall of Fame.
He is survived by two sons, Bill Jr. and Tom, six grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
A wake will be held from 3 to 8 p.m. Friday at Laird Funeral Home in Elgin.
A funeral service will be conducted on Saturday at the First Methodist Church in Elgin. Visitation will be from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. with the service to follow.