Cregier leaves a lasting legacy of class
A chance to beat St. Joseph in boys basketball has been a big deal for more than four decades.
So it was no surprise things got a bit crazy back in the late 1970s when St. Viator took a 1-point lead in its own gym with 10 seconds to play against a team featuring legendary coach Gene Pingatore and the incredible Isiah Thomas.
"The kids are running over to the bench all excited. I'm excited because I live in Westchester," said Tom Mueller, a St. Viator assistant who was hired out of college a few years earlier by Ron Cregier. "Then I'm wondering, 'Where's Ron?' I look and he's standing outside on the court, with his chalkboard and piece of chalk getting ready.
"That was him. Getting ready for the defensive possession at the end of the game."
Then Cregier came into the huddle, where Mueller was giving instructions to Viator's players. Cregier calmly and succinctly broke down what was going to happen.
"Ron turns and says, 'Muells, there is only one guy who is going to take this shot,' " Mueller said with a laugh.
Cregier likely would have laughed as well and said it didn't take a basketball savant to run two defenders at Thomas and force one of the greatest guards in history to miss the game-winning shot.
He would have followed it up with another laugh that someone with a little more basketball acumen would have made sure to prevent a game-winning tip-in by Thomas' running-mate, Ray Clark.
It is Cregier's laughter, smile and sense of humor that put people at ease that will be missed. His concern for so many others during his teaching and coaching career made his death in a car accident Saturday outside of downstate Roanoke a shock that won't wear off for a long time.
Especially for those who knew the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Class of 2015 Hall of Famer for a good portion of his 68 years.
"He carried himself with such class," said Mueller, who went from Viator to assist Cregier during his 13 years in charge at Schaumburg.
"Ron was total class," said Stu Hymen, who taught at Schaumburg and did the public address announcing and kept the scorebook during Cregier's tenure. "He was a great classroom teacher who was well organized. The kids loved him. He was very concerned not only about the student-athlete but the student."
That was evident to Angelo Rivera when he was coaching at Frost Junior High and first met Cregier 39 years ago. Cregier had just taken over at Schaumburg and came to meet Rivera and another elementary school coach.
"The first time I met him it wasn't, 'What I need you to do coaching seventh and eighth grade players' from him," Rivera said. "He wanted to learn what we were doing and why we were doing something.
"I explained to him my goal was always to have fun at this level. His eyes lit up when I said that. I always remember that because he emphasized the same thing."
Shortly after that, Rivera came to Schaumburg and worked at the varsity, sophomore and freshman levels until Cregier's tenure ended there in 1991. But it was much more than just a coaching relationship as Rivera and his wife Gloria and Cregier and his wife Marge frequently socialized and vacationed together.
"He cared about kids," Rivera said. "He cared about his kids, our kids and Tom Mueller's kids. Our kids basically grew up in the gym."
Said Hymen: "One thing that really brings out memories of Ron, as dedicated and hard-working, and as many hours he put into teaching and coaching basketball, family was always No. 1 with Ron."
There was always time for Cregier's son Jonathan, who has been a valued member of the Daily Herald sports department for more than a decade, and his twin daughters, Nicole and Danielle. It wasn't easy, especially since Jonathan was born with spina bifida, but Mueller recalled that Ron shared the news in a typically calm and reasoned way.
"His kids are tremendous people because they had tremendous parents," Mueller said.
Like his players, they weren't going to be coddled. Mueller likened Cregier to legendary UCLA coach John Wooden. He wasn't a screamer but he was a stickler for standards that had to be met on and off the court.
Defend. Defend. The emphasis Cregier put on the word, which he used often, made it clear if you didn't, you would end up somewhere near him on the bench.
It was a formula that led to two regional titles and the program's first Mid-Suburban League title at Schaumburg. Unfortunately, although not for a lack of effort, it didn't translate to success during his stint in charge of the men's program at Harper College.
Ultimately, he ended up back where he truly belonged to make an impact at Fremd as an assistant for the legendary Carol Plodzien in the girls program and then for Bob Widlowski's highly successful boys program. They didn't have to worry about an ex-head coach undermining them or taking credit for what they were accomplishing. Cregier just wanted to help.
Conversely, when Cregier was a head coach, he would attribute the successes to assistants like Mueller, Rivera or Joe Majkowski and his players.
"It was always, 'We did this, we did that, we worked hard,' " Mueller said. "It was never about him. It was all about the kids and he would deflect the attention to somebody else."
Because of that, Ron Cregier would probably wonder why this is such a big deal. Why are so many people paying all these tributes and devoting so much time to me?
"He probably wouldn't like all the attention he's getting now," Rivera said. "He probably would tell people, 'Don't worry about it. Everything's fine.'"
Services for Ron Cregier
Visitation will take place from 3 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at Ahlgrim & Sons Funeral and Cremation Services, 330 W. Golf Road, Schaumburg. Funeral Mass will be at 10 a.m. Thursday, at Church of the Holy Spirit, 1451 W. Bode Road, Schaumburg.