To everyone, Wudtke was kind, selfless, unique
During coaching great Frank Mattucci's run at Stevenson, the Patriots' girls basketball teams were synonymous with two things.
Winning and Willis Wudtke.
The wiry and always affable Wudtke, who died just before Christmas at the age of 67, was the longtime official scorer for the Patriots' girls program, later moving on to Grayslake Central when former Stevenson assistant coach Steve Ikenn took over the Rams -- his omnipresence greatly felt in both programs for the last three-plus decades.
"Willis was a kind soul," said Mattucci, who led Stevenson to two state titles and now resides in the Phoenix, AZ area.
"Willis loved basketball. Give him a pencil and score book and he will travel. He was the Paladin (referencing the popular Western TV show "Have Gun -- Will Travel" starring Richard Boone) of scorekeepers."
Mattucci first met Wudtke when he took the head coaching job at Luther North on the north side of Chicago while still leading the AP European studies department at Stevenson. Wudtke already was embedded as the official scorer at the school located at Montrose and Central in Chicago and asked Mattucci if he could continue in that role. Mattucci went 102-14 and won 4 Class A regionals in as many seasons there.
Wudtke followed Mattucci to Stevenson when he took over the Patriots' program and continued scoring games when current Stevenson athletic director Trish Betthauser was the coach. Wudtke also scored, when available, for Zion-Benton when Mattucci helped out former Loyola Academy coach Tanya Johnson there from 2010-2012 (Z-B finished second in Class 4A in 2011).
"Willis was a loyal and committed friend and colleague, and he loved girls basketball," Betthauser said. "He was a permanent fixture on the sidelines during the state championship years and throughout Frank's entire time here."
When Ikenn, a Stevenson assistant from 1998-2010, took over the Grayslake Central program in the 2010-2011 season, Wudtke, who had also scored Ikenn's sophomore games at Stevenson, followed and continued scoring Rams games until the pandemic hit in 2020 and his health worsened.
"I don't think people know how much the girls appreciated Willis," Ikenn said. "I think he knew. Even in recent years when his diabetes made it tougher for him to walk, he always tried to be the first person off the bus at away games so he could hold the door open for all the players and wish them good luck."
Both Ikenn and Mattucci noted Wudtke was as old-school as they come -- he had no cellphone, computer or email account. Wudtke, due to his medical condition, also did not drive a car. He would typically take the train from the city and be picked up near Stevenson or Grayslake Central, and Mattucci and Ikenn provided their good friend rides back to his home on the north side of the city as needed.
"The girls once asked me how Willis gets the schedule," Ikenn said. "I said, 'Well, ladies. I print it out, put it in an envelope, put a stamp on it and mail it to him.' The girls couldn't fathom that. Willis was a wonderful guy who loved high school girls basketball. He thought the players were the greatest. Playing high school basketball is special and he made sure the girls realized they were special doing something like that. He definitely added to our program, no question. High school girls aren't used to having the door held open for them. Willis meant it. He was one-of-a-kind. He was omnipresent."
Mattucci said the only games Wudtke missed during his 15-year Stevenson run were due to a brief hospitalization during the Dundee-Crown Charger Classic holiday tournament (now called the Komaromy Classic) in the late 1990s.
"When I took over at Luther North, Willis asked me if he could continue scoring," Mattucci remembered. "I had a feeling he was a good guy."
Mattucci said in a touching Facebook tribute (Ikenn posted another great tribute on the same social media platform), that his Stevenson circle of trust referred to Wudtke as "the bellman."
"Willis was a friend to the coaches, players, parents and administrators in all these seasons and summers of camps and tourneys," Mattucci said. "With Willis, it was never about him. It was always about others -- one's spouse, the girls on the team, an official, friends and coaches that he cared about more than himself. We lost one of the biggest girls high school hoops fans the state of Illinois has ever seen. He was selfless and unique."
Mattucci said he plans on nominating Wudtke for the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame to enter as a friend of the sport.