Friday, January 20, 2006

Bradley Basketball Revisted

Thanks, Mike for connecting me to a sports audience. Thanks for all the comments. I accept the criticism but point out I don't follow the career of Versace and I did say “I believe” I didn't say “was” still with the Grizzlies. I also said “McLain appeared” to be the top candidate; he certainly was a top candidate. Okay, where Sommerville transferred from is immaterial; he transferred from a stronger program and conference to a lesser conference and program. Sommerville is a talented athlete, I don’t believe he has achieved at Bradley what many expected him to achieve. And no, I wasn’t at the game but on television you can get replays of what happens on the court. The coach on the bench doesn’t have that privilege but he has numerous assistants including one of the best ex-high school coaches in the country.

As to won and loss, what counts is the loss column and it already at 5 conference losses with some of the best talent in recent Bradley history. I’ve followed Bradley since 1964 but admittedly less in recent years as the basketball program has turned on a downward slant and some of the professors have become more liberal. Promises were made by coach Les when he came on board; promises such as that he would have an exciting fast break team. If he had studied films, he would have known he didn’t have the material for a fast break team unless he believed that dribbling the ball rapidly up court was a “fast break”.

It’s also obvious that Les doesn’t know how to work with a big man on the post. A seven footer getting off two shots in a whole game?? Don’t blame the kid. Les’s team “committed 19 turnovers, 30 personal fouls, two technical and blew a 12 point lead” in a hurry (quotes from the JS) yet in the opinion of most of my friends Bradley has some potentially great talent this year. Please don’t bring Joe Stowell in for ANY criticism on what I write. I haven’t talked to Joe about Bradley basketball in over two years but I consider him a friend and an excellent coach of young men or young women as he was girls BB coach at Bradley until it was deemed not politically correct and the girls became the “Lady Braves”.

As to my coaching ability, you might ask Joe and also ask Roger Cushman, formerly a Bloomington Pantagraph sports writer and now I “believe” is still sports publicist at Illinois State Normal. He, I believe, still does some occasional writing for the Pantagraph because here is what he wrote in the Pantagraph on May 5, 2005, “Merle Widmer, successful basketball coach at Heyworth, ect”, and Jim Barnhart, Sports Editor of the Pantagraph wrote Widmer compiled a 47-27 high school basketball record over three years and is probably Central Illinois’ most successful grade school coach. His grade school basketball teams, both lightweight and heavyweight were in the sectional finals three of the last four times. His grade school heavyweight track team was 2nd in the state and his track teams have won four Mclean County championships and are favored again this year. His grade school teams won 26 trophies including a 2nd place in the state.”

Back then, many coaches coached both grade and high and that is the way some dynasties were built such as at many high schools in southern Illinois. I was told that after I left Heyworth that over the next three years Heyworth High won two County High School Basketball Championships, one more than they had won in the history of the school. I know that the high school track teams also won County championships before, while and after I left Heyworth and I know that a kid I coached won both the grade school heavyweight State shot put Championship (while I was coach) and the High School State shot put Championship. His name was Joe Connelly (now deceased) and at 5’11” also scored over 40 points in at least one high school game. My grade school was county champion in softball winning the finals at Chenoa on a sensational catch by partially disabled Jerome Vogel. I saw him a few years ago and he will never forget that night. Neither will winning pitcher Bill Kennedy who later became a fast pitch legend in the Central Illinois area. Ask Larry Dunn, another fast pitch legend in Peoria and a friend of Kennedy.

I also refereed in the Peoria area, in my first year I worked for Joe Stowell at Bradley and worked the Farmington-Canton game with Bob Brodbeck who is a legend in officiating circles and is now afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease and is in a Canton nursing home where I visited him a couple weeks ago. When my company transferred me to Kansas, I had to cancel all my officiating dates; games I was to work at such names as LaSalle-Peru Jr. College, Ottawa, East Aurora and Rock Falls. I had the privilege to with work with Orville Nothdruft, another local legend; we worked the finals of the Jr. College Regional (the tournament that qualified a team to go to the nationals at Hutchison, Ks.), at LaSalle-Peru. Roy Romani, former coach at either Washington or Metamora, and I were selected to work the championship game.

I have been accused by some of my friends that “I am a born coach.” Maybe they are right and that is the reason as a county board member entering his sixth year; the county was recently called a “class act” by a JS writer. I believe I could still coach from the bench today but would demand a higher set of standards from some of the participants representing their schools in athletics today.

At Heyworth, I taught 7 out of 8 periods per day, did all the grade school coaching as well as all the high school basketball coaching for a TOTAL of $3600.00. (300 dollars covered all coaching because back then people thought it was a privilege to coach and pay was not a big factor because WE LOVED SPORTS AND COACHING YOUNG PEOPLE). We also loved teaching but I saw good teachers leaving the field because they had trouble paying bills like me. We are still paying for the mistakes made by many school boards in the 50’s and 60’s.

I also played and coached in Bloominton-Normal Municipal Baseball League, playing on the Eureka-Williams Championship team, the Sangamon Valley Championship team (Heyworth), the Tri-Valley Championship team (Danvers) and set up and managed a fast pitch softball league where I was player manager and league director when I was 18 years old.

I do know something about coaching but I admit I am like most of you; I now coach from the stands which is a lot easier. As to Bradley, I guess some of my frustration comes from promises made by Dr. Martin Abegg, former Bradley President and his Board of Trustees; promises that have not been kept by presidents who succeeded him. Also, I read and listened to all the promises Jim Les made and keeps making. People, who make promises (think politicians) and don’t fulfill these promises, can expect to come under criticism. Also, no one needs to be reminded that this is his fourth year.

My career as a basketball player? You could care less? Well, maybe some do so here goes. I went to a one room country grade school and never shot a basketball until I was a freshman at Congerville High School. I scored one career varsity basket. The coach would only let his players shoot with two hands or a running one hander. I later became well known in the Bloomington-Normal area as an independent player; shooting one-handed and later was a starter and sometimes leading scorer; I scored 16 points against Fort Dix and guarded 6’8” Junius Kellogg, (two of our four loses came at the hands of Fort Dix), who was the first college player to report a bribe and the first black player on an armed services traveling post team in the USA. Kellogg reported this $1000 bribe to shave points and arrests were made after the game. This attempted bribe caused a chain reaction later involving Bradley University and eventually prompted the ongoing debate as to whether “Squeaky” should be in Bradley’s Hall of Fame) for my 1st Air Force traveling post team winning the Northeast 1st Air Force championship with a record of 16-4.

I was offered a basketball scholarship at then prestigious academically and all boys Hamilton College in upstate NY but couldn’t pass the entrance exam. (I went back to (Utica)Hamilton College about 15 years ago. A new gym had been built but the old gym was open and a basketball was on the floor. I shot better than I did when I went to Hamilton to work out with the team!!)

Legendary Pantagraph sports editor Fred Young wrote in his column “Young’s Yarns” that I had “developed into one of the best shooters in Central Illinois”, after he saw me play in and independent tournament at Illinois Wesleyan.

I scored 14 points in the championship intramural game at Illinois State Normal University as it was called back then ( I left ISNU after Coach Joe Cogdall (sp?) wanted me to shoot most of my shots two handed; I couldn’t. Actually I transferred because I was flunking out; all I thought of was sports. I won one letter at Western at Macomb but never played on the great teams at Western in the late forties and early fifties. More important, I graduated with my class. I also played and managed the YMCA team, traveling to Peoria to play one year. Some of these Western BB legends allowed me to play with them in independent tournaments after the season was over. I played on Clubs at River City Championship teams 1988, 1989 and 1990. Confirm thru Bobby Humbles, former Manual and Bradley legend, Bobby, who worked with me for 10 years at Widmer’s and is now a successful State Farm Agent, credits me with getting him to play tennis 25 years ago and Bobby is now one of the best tennis players in the area.

At the age of 73, I won a Senior Olympics gold medal for 3-3 basketball representing Mesa, AZ. winning over teams from Southern California and New Mexico with the games played at ASU. Confirm with my wife and the video she took and the engraved medal on my trophy shelves.

The first 36 out of 39 years of my life were not lived in Peoria so my first contacts with sports people from Peoria were the independent teams that came out from Peoria from the Sunday Morning League or BB officials like Nothdruft and Joe Stowell, when he coached at Armington.

My blogging is for myself and for you who read me and for my kids who after I am gone may wonder what I did with my life. But thanks to everyone who reads my columns and those who post comments, I just ask that you don’t get nasty!!

All my sports background is recorded somewhere. You can read about Junius Kellogg if anyone still has any of the books written about the 1950’s scandal. I am sad to say that I have outlived some of my former students, players and peers. I still get invited to Colusa reunions, even though I’ve never gone back; Colusa is where I (also to Heyworth reunions which I attend when I can) started my teaching and coaching career and I promise to go back to Colusa-Nauvoo reunion this summer.

Lastly, I apologize, but I am not a journalist nor did I ever take a class in journalism. Read the JS more closely and you will see quite a few grammatical errors by writers who did major in journalism and those writers should have proof readers. (I know this doesn’t excuse me,) You may also notice that my blogs written late at night have more errors. After all I am a senior and aren’t most seniors in bed at 9:30??

Want to know more of where I stand on other issues? Look in my archives where I have posted over 200 blogs. I apologize for not blogging every day for those who say they enjoy reading me like Mayor Ardis, Judge Steve, Barbara Van Auken (not always) and Angela Davis (not always), Bill Dennis, a talent who got me started blogging, and George Jacobs. I can’t leave out Gary Sandburg who is still upset about the county jail booking fees, the City-County GIS contract, and with my stance on the water company buyout and is upset about anything that Peoria County does. Hmmm.

Thanks again, Mike Radigan. (I met Mike playing in BB pick-up games at the Clubs at RC with Mike when I was in my sixties and seventies)

Want to tell me about your past sports history? Become a blogger. Just keep your blogs short like I am SUSPOSED to!!

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1 comment:

Merle Widmer said...

To the guy sho says "check him out" and a couple of comments that appear to tinged with a little hate toward me:

16,505 visits with 27,000 pages visited since on 208 blogs since August 17, 2004 when I started blogging. Check me out? I believe my name is on the new building out at Widmer Interiors thirteen years after I sold it. Believe I defeated 9 year incumbent Zan Ransburg for the county board and have run unopposed since then. Believe my peers elected me a Republican vice-chairman of the board with 8 votes from the Democrats. Believe my name has stood the test of time. Give me yours and we see how your name stands out. Suggest I have donated a lot of money to Bradley over the years including $30,000.00 in office furniture in one year alone. Yeah, check me out.

Sure as a property tax payer I and many others are not too happy the way politicians and a few arrogant wealthy elite want to raise property taxes even higher to support their special interests.