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For the young-uns out there the name Bob Burger may not register. To St. Charles High School graduate and basketball star Jeff Howard, and many others, Burger was the closest thing to John Wooden.
Back in the day, before AAU travel basketball ruled the roost, young players didn't have the outlet they enjoy today. But St. Patrick Catholic School in St. Charles provided plenty of parochial league games for elementary school students. With Bob Burger on the bench St. Pat's not only dominated but served as a pipeline to the high school in town.
"St. Pat's was kind of like the UCLA of grade school basketball, because we were always good. Every year we were going to win 20 games," said Jeff Howard, St. Charles East Athletic Hall of Fame Class of 2010 and a 13-year varsity assistant at Elgin.
"We felt we had an advantage going to St. Pat's, because by the time we went to junior high we already had played probably 80 games," he said.
The reason we're talking about this is Bob Burger — who lives in Geneva with his wife, Marla, and assumed control of his father's Burger Drug store that from 1938-2008 was a St. Charles institution — turned 80 years old last month. Landmarks like that are made to celebrate. Howard, a seventh-grader in Burger's last season at St. Patrick, celebrated his own birthday the day before.
Rumor has it the two men and a couple other former players are meeting Saturday at a St. Charles establishment to honor the birthdays and, of course, rehash glory days.
Like Burger Drug, the St. Patrick basketball staff was a family affair. Shortly after taking the head coaching position in the mid-1950s, Bob Burger asked Jack Howard, Jeff's late father, to be an assistant. When Burger retired his position as head coach after the 1968-69 season, in stepped Jeff Howard's older brother, John. That season, Jeff's eighth-grade year, St. Pat's went 32-0.
"Bob did that intentionally to give my brother the opportunity to step in," Jeff Howard said. "He didn't have to do that, but knowing the talent coming in and knowing my brother was coming back from the service, he wanted to groom a young guy."
The generous, family approach rubbed off. Howard's sons, Marcus and Quintin, both work in the family business, Howard Sportswear Graphics, where his wife, Dee, does the accounting; Marcus and Quintin Howard, former stars at Elgin, also join their father as Maroons assistants.
Howard remembers Burger as a composed, prepared tactician out of the Wooden school, one who neither yelled at his players nor officials.
"He was very laid back, very big on fundamentals," Jeff Howard said.
Burger didn't get much time to apply them, practicing only two or three times a week due to lack of gym space, Howard said, but practice plans were regimented to the minute. Howard now marvels at how Burger would compile scouting reports for elementary school opponents.
Then game time came, and the likes of former Hall of Fame St. Charles coach Ron Johnson would come to watch the players who in a few short years would be playing for him.
Like Howard, who graduated in 1974 as St. Charles' fourth leading career scorer before starring at Elgin Community College and Loras College. He'd readily admit Burger had a lot to do with that career, and his current one.
"Everybody I've ever met who knows Bob, I've never heard anybody say a bad word about Bob. And that's not just players, that's the community. He's just a class guy, he oozes class," Howard said.
"For us guys that played for him I guarantee, he was kind of a mentor for a lot of people."
Ready for the rematch
St. Charles East's boys lacrosse team will be playing with an edge Friday when the Saints host St. Charles North in the second Crosstown Classic since the former St. Charles Lacrosse Club split into two.
"Definitely a lot of friendships turned into rivalries," said Chris Connor, who shares East's head coaching duties with Aaron Vermedal.
St. Charles North won last year's inaugural match, 9-5, and the North Stars won again this spring in a preseason game.
"If you can use the term like they use in hockey, 'a playoff atmosphere,' that was pretty much what it felt like," said Connor, a 2002 St. Charles East graduate in his second season as head coach. "Every goal felt like the biggest goal of the year."
He recalls that senior attack Alex O'Brien scored one of them in last year's contest. The Illinois High School Lacrosse Association website currently lists O'Brien fifth in statewide scoring with 47 points on 34 goals and 13 assists.
St. Charles North, 8-3 after Wednesday's 13-0 win over Marmion according to IHSLA.org, is ranked 11th by the association. St. Charles East, 6-3 and coming off consecutive wins over Conant and Waubonsie Valley this week, is No. 20. Both North and East are ranked even higher — Nos. 8 and 15, respectively — by another site, Laxpower.com.
"We are really seeing some rapid growth with the team this season," Vermedal said.
Connor said last season the Saints' record was 8-8 after an 0-7 start. This year an early 13-8 win over Geneva got them off on the right foot. A competitive game Saturday against St. Charles North would continue the process.
"If we play well or even win against North, it's a good way to put us on the map," Connor said.
The junior varsity game will start at 5 p.m. Friday, followed by senior presentations then the varsity game at 7:30.
"This is the game that we're looking forward to," Connor said.
Paging Dr. Fisher
We're familiar with the Sockers FC youth soccer club, but never knew it had a hall of fame. One of two 2013 inductees at the function in June will be Batavia 1993 graduate Mike Fisher, who capped his high school career as both class valedictorian and Gatorade player of the year. He'll be joined by the Los Angeles Galaxy's Mike Magee, out of Elmhurst.
Fisher earned tons of honors in addition to statewide and regional success with the Sockers. He graduated as the state's fifth leading scorer with 140 goals back in the early years of boys prep soccer in Illinois and still is No. 7 on the Illinois High School Association goals list.
He played on the United States Under-17 National Team in the Youth World Cup in Italy, was a two-time all-American at Virginia and was the rare two-time Hermann Trophy winner, in 1995-96. A midfielder, Fisher was named on Soccer America's College Team of the Century (along with current Waubonsie Valley boys coach Angelo Di Bernado).
Despite being drafted by Tampa Bay of Major League Soccer in 1997 — the second overall pick — Fisher left the game to attend medical school. He's currently a radiologist in North Carolina.
Follow Dave on Twitter @doberhelman1