2017-'18 Season Coverage
updated: 3/19/2014 9:37 PM

Danforth the right fit for coaches' hall of fame

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Jim Danforth says his background is not "prototypical" of a Hall of Fame resume.

But what's right is right.

Serving as head coach three seasons at Driscoll, seven at Dundee-Crown and five at Fenton, though he was in the game more than 40 years those 15 seasons are half what Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Famer coaches will have.

While at Dundee-Crown Danforth enjoyed seasons of 19, 16 and 22 wins -- that 22-5 campaign of 1994-95, capped by a 75-73 regional final loss to Rockford East that still haunts him -- perhaps more representative were several .500 records at Fenton and Driscoll.

He doesn't consider himself "a great Xs and Os coach," he said. He does consider himself a "Neanderthal, throwback-type guy."

"I asked the kids to play hard, to play with confidence, to play as a team, to play defense," he said. "I'd say most people who saw our kids play would say our kids did that on a pretty consistent basis, win or lose."

Danforth's better teams won pretty consistently. Others, well, they did the opposite.

It's to the IBCA's credit as well as Danforth's friend and colleague Dennis Cromer, who hired him at Fenton and nominated him, that on April 26 Danforth will deservedly enter the basketball hall in the apt category of "Career Coach." His three happily married children, each York graduates, and his two grandchildren and Cromer will join him at the Hall of Fame Banquet in Bloomington.

"I'm grateful, and kind of surprised," Danforth said.

He may not believe his resume is geared toward the IBCA Hall, but for decades he surrounded himself with hoops luminaries. Most often coaching three sports a year, he absorbed the lessons and extended them to athletes.

He took the kids from Sacred Heart elementary in Melrose Park to a St. Joseph youth tournament run by a young Gene Pingatore. Years before coaching at Loyola-Chicago, Will Rey asked Danforth to lead the eighth-graders at St. Cyprian Elementary School in River Grove.

Danforth briefly assisted the late Bill Probst at St. Viator. Jim Hinkle hired him at Dundee-Crown. Danforth said he declined an offer to assist at Batavia to succeed Mike Bailey at Dundee-Crown, which Danforth led to two Fox Valley Conference titles.

He started at Fenton in 1997, sophomore basketball and freshman football. When Cromer was named assistant principal he asked Danforth to take over -- "which kind of surprised me," Danforth said.

He said he has two main regrets over his long career. He's replayed the Rockford East-Dundee-Crown game in his head "about a million times." He wishes he would have allowed himself to get closer to his players and their parents; he drew a line so his objectivity toward playing time was not an issue.

"At the end of the day, all you're left with is numbers and the wins and losses, and I don't think that's the true benefit of coaching at the high school level," he said with a hint of melancholy.

Diagnosed about eight years ago with Parkinson's disease, Deep Brain Stimulation surgery has him feeling fit to return to coaching after a couple seasons off. Last year he didn't actively pursue a position, but that may change.

"I'm hoping that over the years I've made enough contacts with area coaches that I think if I really wanted to I could get in with a job, especially as a volunteer, they wouldn't have to pay me," Danforth said. "So I'm hopefully not done."

The buddy system

On Monday morning Bill Petersen and Don Gebbie, retired Naperville North teachers, met for coffee and to shoot the breeze.

It was just another morning in a friendship that's spanned more than half a century since they played basketball against one another, Petersen at Glenbard West, Gebbie at Maine East.

They were teammates at North Central College. They each retired in 2003, Petersen as a math teacher, Gebbie in physical education. Each have vacation homes in northern Wisconsin. On April 26 they too, both Gebbie and Peterson, will be inducted into the IBCA Hall of Fame, as "Friends of Basketball."

When Petersen started in 1966 there was only Naperville Community High School. Eventually he became Naperville North's first sophomore boys basketball coach and did that "forever," he said.

"I just like being over there, it's just fun," said Petersen, also Huskies varsity and sophomore football statistician. "And the honor, I'm very humbled because I was enjoying myself for all those years coaching, and to be recognized like that is very nice."

They were basically co-head coaches of Naperville North's 1973-74 freshman boys squad. Gebbie coached the boys who were going to stay at the new North High School. Peterson had those headed to Naperville Central.

"We just split them down that way rather than ability-wise, A and B (teams), just like everyone else did," said Petersen, still teaching math part-time at College of DuPage.

Now, Gebbie keeps the score book at Naperville Central where his son, Tom, is the sophomore boys coach. Petersen is Naperville North's official scorekeeper despite Huskies coach Jeff Powers' pleas for him to return to coaching.

"I keep inviting him," Powers said, "but he says I do a good enough job."

This weekend Petersen and Gebbie will head to Peoria for the boys state finals, a ritual decades strong. Powers has joined them the last five seasons.

"They're just basketball junkies," Powers said. "You very rarely see them apart."

Alas, they will be apart at the Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Petersen will be there, supported by an entourage that includes his wife, Sylvia, but he said Gebbie will miss due to a family wedding.

Petersen can share the highlights to Gebbie over another coffee. Friendship, and prep sports, keep them coming back for more.

"I feel no better way to spend my free time than watching young kids. It keeps you young," Petersen said.

Green and gold steel on ice

That's two shades of green, because the boys hockey programs from Waubonsie and Glenbard will face each other for the Varsity Combined state championship at 8:45 p.m. Thursday at the United Center.

"Varsity Combined" is an arrangement within Amateur Hockey Association Illinois where teams draw players from more than one school, according to AHAI High School chair Jim Powers.

Thus, Waubonsie gets players from Waubonsie Valley, Metea Valley, Oswego and Oswego East. Glenbard draws from each of the District 87 high schools -- East, West, North and South.

Waubonsie beat defending Combined champ Rockford 4-3 in the semifinals to reach the finals; Glenbard nipped Maine Township 3-2.

Their game is the third of three championship games at the United Center. First to be determined is the girls champion between New Trier and Loyola at 4 p.m., followed by the boys Red Varsity (players from all one school) final between New Trier Green and Glenbrook North.

Tickets and information can be had at the AHAI website.

Knights shine

Recently we reported that Downers Grove North's girls basketball team was selected as "High School Team of the Week" by the Chicago Sky women's professional basketball team. This week, the last honor of the season goes to the IC Catholic Knights.

Finishing with a 25-8 record, coach Aubree Schuett's squad reached its first Final Four in Class 2A.

The Sky likes teams that do well on and off the court. IC's girls helped raise more than $15,000 toward the American Cancer Society in a Coaches vs. Cancer event. They also participate in Operation North Pole, which wraps and distributes Christmas gifts to families in need.


Follow Dave on Twitter @doberhelman1

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