Glenbrook South's Phil Ralston headed to Illinois Coaches Hall of Fame
Leave it to an English teacher to acknowledge a career honor by quoting Tennyson.
" 'I am a part of all that I have met,' " Glenbrook South High School boys basketball coach Phil Ralston said after he was named among the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association 2023 Hall of Fame class.
The IBCA announced its 2023 class Nov. 28. Locally, it includes Ralston in the coaches category, 1987 Glenbrook South graduate and Northwestern guard Brad Niemann as a player, and New Trier girls coach Teri Rodgers as the 2023 winner of the Derril Kipp Courage Award. Rodgers was inducted into the hall in 2019.
The induction ceremonies will be held May 6 at Illinois State University's Redbird Arena in Normal.
"It's a big event and it's a special honor," Ralston said. "It's a nice recognition by my peers, and I know it'll be a special evening. I look forward to having that opportunity to share that with my coaching colleagues and my family."
That includes his wife, Cathy; their son, Ryan; and daughters Kristin, Amy and Dana. The Ralstons' youngest child, Dana, is a junior forward on Glenbrook South's varsity girls team.
Ryan Ralston played on Geneva's 30-5 team his father coached to fourth place in Class 4A in 2015. Kristin is a starting forward at Johns Hopkins and a member of Geneva's 2017 girls 4A champions. Amy, a freshman at the University of Illinois, favored music and theater in high school.
Cathy Ralston is a steady presence in her husband's hall of fame career.
"Whether we win or lose, she always has that bias that my teams can do no wrong," Phil Ralston said. "She's always been a big supporter of my endeavors. I certainly wouldn't have lasted as long without her."
In 23 seasons, Ralston's record is 416-218, winning 66% of his games. In his sixth season at Glenbrook South, he's winning at a 75% clip (115-39) and last season directed the Titans to the best season in program history, 33-3 and its first sectional title.
On Nov. 28 Ralston watched one of that team's stars, Nick Martinelli of Northwestern, play against Pittsburgh with Nate Santos, from Ralston's final Geneva team in 2016-17.
"I get to live vicariously through their stories and their play," Ralston said. "For me, to turn on the television and see a player that I've coached playing in a nationally televised game, how much better does it get?"
A 1987 Glenbrook North graduate who lives in Northbrook, Ralston had to be convinced the prep game was for him as a graduate assistant and Northwestern's director of basketball operations.
He had interviews lined up with two college programs, he said. But Wildcats coach Ricky Byrdsong thought Ralston would make a good high school coach, that professionally it'd be a wise move as he and Cathy were newlyweds considering starting a family. College coaching can be as unstable as an active volcano.
Byrdsong, a 1999 murder victim, is no longer with us. Neither is the coach who gave Ralston his first assistant position. Deerfield's Steve Pappas died of cancer in 2006.
"I know I'm biased," Ralston said, "but Steve is probably one of the most special basketball coaches I've ever come across in my life. He embodied being a coach's coach, teaching other people how to be good coaches."
Pappas is in the IBCA hall as is former Grant coach Tom Maple, who made Ralston his lead assistant. Maple was both brutally honest assessing Ralston's coaching philosophies and fiercely loyal and supportive, said Ralston, who became Grant's head coach in the 2000-01 season.
He cited Grant's Andrew Wynne as "one of my first marquee players," and he also had Grant's Wayne Bosworth, the current head boys coach at the Fox Lake school.
Ralston believed he "cut my teeth" as a head coach at Geneva, starting in 2008-09. The 2015 Vikings team won its first supersectional in 52 years led by Nate Navigato, a superstar on the order of Dom and Nick Martinelli, the brothers Ralston coached at Glenbrook South.
Ralston was a Glenbrook North Spartan when Brad Niemann -- "the living legend from across Willow Avenue," Ralston said -- averaged 22.8 points his senior season in 1986-87.
Niemann made 76 straight free throws in 1986-87, the Illinois high school record and fourth all-time nationally according to National Federation of State High School Associations records.
Ralston recalled the story of Niemann's attempt at 77 straight. While shooting, a quarter flew out of the stands and hit him, and Niemann missed. Referees did not allow a do-over.
"We definitely knew about Brad," Ralston said of the rival player. "He was a special, special basketball player."
New Trier's Teri Rodgers is a special coach. Inducted into the IBCA Hall of Fame in 2019, in her 28th season she entered Tuesday's game at Glenbrook North with a record of 584-208, 18th all-time in victories by Illinois High School Association records.
"Teri has been instrumental in her efforts over the years to expand on opportunities for girls in basketball," said Mark Kleemann, on the IBCA's executive board and hall of fame committee.
"Most recently she has worked with the IBCA on her 'Grow the Game' initiatives designed to support young women who are entering the coaching ranks as well as to push for additional avenues for the girls' teams throughout the state."