Kevin Katovich dreamed about wearing Arlington Cardinal jerseys growing up.
He lived right across the street from the football field and would cut through it every day on his way to Ridge Elementary School. On weekends, he would climb under the bleachers with friends or sneak into the school with his sister on weekends to walk around.
All of his siblings went there. And then one day, in fourth grade, the dream of wearing the red and white and playing in tradition-steeped Grace Gym was over.
"My parents told me that we were going to move," said Katovich, who wound up going to Conant and is now in his 17th year as Rolling Meadows' head boys basketball coach. "I was so distraught that I literally refused to go look at houses because I told them I would move in with my grandmother so I could go to Arlington."
Not long after that, that dream was over for a lot of kids when District 214 decided to close Arlington in 1984. Since then, it has become the home to Christian Liberty Academy, but the district has worked with the current tenants to host various events for alums and students who had to graduate elsewhere when the school closed. That included a basketball game between Palatine and Buffalo Grove in 2008 as a retirement gift of sorts for alum and Daily Herald prep sports legend Bob Frisk.
An open house all-school Arlington reunion in September at Christian Liberty sparked an idea for Katovich. The result is all three Mid-Suburban East boys games involving the District 214 schools are scheduled for Friday in historic Grace Gym -- Buffalo Grove vs. Wheeling at 4:30, Elk Grove vs. Rolling Meadows at 6 and Hersey vs. Prospect at 7:30. Arlington's best team, which made the Class AA Elite Eight in 1982, will also be honored.
"It will be really cool," Katovich said.
Buffalo Grove boys athletic director Kip North, who starred in football and played basketball at Arlington, put together a District 214 open gym for current players during the open house attended by nearly 800 people.
"That brought back all the memories," Katovich said. "The gym is like the movie Hoosiers. I said to Kip, 'We should play here. Let's play a game here.'
"He was all for it and brought it up with all of the other ADs."
All of the different parties were on board and they went to work on getting Friday's event in place with Erin Brooks, the District 214 Education Foundation Executive Director and the Assistant Director for Community Engagement and Outreach. Admission is $5 (free for students). and all of the proceeds will go to the Cardinal Endowment Foundation fund for District 214 student success.
"Erin has done a great job of promoting it," Katovich said.
"It will be be an incredible opportunity to see great District 214 basketball in a real historical setting," Brooks said.
And it includes a chance to honor the 1981-82 Arlington team, one of the best in MSL history, in the cafeteria around 6 p.m. John Bostrom, one of the key players on the team, worked to bring back as many players and people associated with the team as possible.
The Cardinals finished 25-6 and were ranked 16th in the final Associated Press statewide poll under the late George Zigman. They were led by 6-foot-6 all-stater Chris Berg, one of the most electrifying players in MSL history whose career at Northwestern was curtailed by a devastating knee injury.
Point guard Larry Tellschow orchestrated the attack that also featured Don Frankel, Rick Elkins and Ted Wolfe as the Cardinals beat Highland Park in the supersectional before losing to eventual state champion East St. Louis Lincoln in the quarterfinals at Assembly Hall in Champaign. Freshman Todd Wolfe, who played at Michigan State with Scott Skiles and Steve Smith, came off the bench and a year later would have a larger role as they made it back to the Sweet 16.
Those teams were the culmination of 30-plus years where Grace Gym was the area's crown jewel for high school basketball after it opened in February 1952.
The 4,000-seat gym was named after fabled Arlington athletic director and coach Wally "Pappy" Grace in 1967.
State champions Maine South (1979) and Evanston (1968) won sectional titles there. So did the Dave Corzine-led 1974 Hersey team that was the first in MSL history to reach the Elite Eight. And the 1984 Evanston state runnerup led by future NBA player Everette Stephens and former Wheeling coach Lou Wool captured the last sectional tourney before Arlington closed.
Tonight is a wonderful chance to rekindle the old memories and create new ones. Here's hoping it's not just a one-time event.
"I think all of the coaches would be in favor of doing something like this every year," Katovich said. "It's great for the district and great for the kids to get different experiences and bring us together."