2017-'18 Season Coverage
updated: 5/5/2018 6:02 PM

Maple’s passing is a big loss for us all

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  • Former Grant boys basketball coach Tom Maple, shown here speaking at the Lee Oler court dedication at Grant in February, passed away last Saturday.

    Former Grant boys basketball coach Tom Maple, shown here speaking at the Lee Oler court dedication at Grant in February, passed away last Saturday.
    SUBMITTED PHOTO

 
 

The shooter felt like a big shot.

After all, that wasn't just anybody behind the wheel of that red Jeep Grand Cherokee during those summers. The man pulled into the Bosworth family driveway in the Ingleside subdivision and offered the young shooter a lift to the high school, where he would open the gym doors and let the future basketball star shoot buckets.

"He was more than a big deal," Wayne Bosworth said. "He was Tom Maple. He was a legend."

He was "Mapes."

Bosworth remembers thinking, "Wow, I'm junior high kid and I'm getting a ride to practice from the head varsity basketball coach."

Not just any basketball coach. Tom Maple.

"That was probably almost a daily occurrence all summer long," said Bosworth, who grew up in the same neighborhood that Maple lived in. "We (other kids) would be in the gym for a couple of hours, and he'd be in his office getting some work done."

In time, Bosworth realized something: The way Tom Maple treated him was the way he treated everybody. He was selfless. A chauffeur to anyone who needed a lift. He made you feel a little taller in your high-tops.

"It didn't matter whether you were No. 1 on the team or No. 15 on the team," said Bosworth, who graduated from Grant in 2000, Maple's last as head coach, after scoring a school-record 1,827 points in four varsity seasons. "Tom just had an amazing gift to make you feel like you were the most important person. It didn't matter who you were, what your basketball skills were, what you could do for the program."

Grant's basketball program is reeling.

Maple, who won 368 games in 25 seasons, passed away last Saturday, a couple of days after suffering an apparent heart attack at his Ingleside home. On May 20, which would have been his 76th birthday, his family plans to hold a celebration of his life at The Chapel in Grayslake. It was just eight months ago that Grant basketball legend Lee Oler died at the age of 67 after battling cancer.

When Grant had a celebration in its field house in February to unveil "Lee Oler Court," it was the hall-of-famer Maple who spoke eloquently and proudly about the player who graduated in 1968, a couple of months before Maple arrived at the Fox Lake school.

"You're not going to find a better person than him," Fritz Kazlausky said of Maple, his neighbor (two blocks away), fishing buddy, fellow teacher and coach, and dear friend of nearly 50 years.

In 1975, the vacant head-basketball job at Grant came down to Maple and longtime sophomore coach Kazlausky. When Maple won out, Kazlausky admittedly was disappointed. Maple knew it and knew what to do. He knew how to make an uncomfortable situation comfortable.

"He comes down to my (classroom) and says, 'Come on, let's go for lunch,' " said Kazlausky, who was the head varsity baseball coach at the time. "We go to the old McDonald's in Round Lake. Hamburgers were, what, a quarter (laughing)? He said, 'I want you to stay on and be my sophomore basketball coach.' "

Kazlausky accepted.

"We've always had a good relationship," Kazlausky said.

It wasn't the last time Maple surprised his friend. When the father of Kazlausky's wife passed away several years ago, Maple went to pay his respects at the funeral home -- 300 miles away, by Kazlausky's count, in northern Wisconsin. Kazlausky spied Maple at the end of the line.

"It was unbelievable that he did that," said Kazlausky, who didn't know his friend was coming.

Kazlausky, a member of the Illinois High School Baseball Coaches hall of fame, credits Maple for getting him inducted into the Illinois basketball coaches hall, a rare achievement for an assistant.

After he stepped down as head coach, Maple assisted Phil Ralston. In 2008, Bosworth, just 26 years old, took over the varsity program after Ralston left to become the head coach at Geneva.

Bosworth dialed up his old head coach.

"I soon as I got that job, he was the first person I called," Bosworth said. "I went over to his house, sat down, and we went over everything that we needed to do to just to lay a foundation for the program. He went over everything with me -- things that, as a 26-year-old varsity head coach, you wouldn't think of at that time. He was an amazing mentor for someone that young in that position.

"He said, 'Boz, I'll give one or two years as a varsity assistant,' " Bosworth added. "I was lucky. He gave me both of them."

Maple served as a volunteer coach on the sophomore level after his two seasons with Bosworth. In more recent years, he attended games as a fan.

When Maple spoke about Oler on the night of the court dedication, he talked about "the power and love of a high school, a village, and a basketball community coming together to honor our very own hero."

And now that community has lost another one of its heroes.

jaguilar@dailyherald.com

• Follow Joe on Twitter: @JoeAguilar64

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