Bruce Firchau hasn't had so much fun since he caught a 26-pound lake trout near the Arctic Circle a few years ago.
"I have the best of all worlds," Firchau said. "When I retired in 2005, I wondered what bowling league I'd be competing in. What was I going to do? But I still enjoy coaching and fishing for a month in Canada and Minnesota and doing my work with the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association."
Firchau has coached basketball for 35 years at eight schools, the last seven at Westminster Christian in Elgin. He also is a rabid fisherman. He has caught 49 Northern Pike over 40 inches long, but none bigger than that lake trout in 2005.
Now he is engaged in another project. As chairman of the IBCA's Hall of Fame Museum in Danville, he is gathering oral histories from former coaches and players to recall the great games and moments of Illinois high school basketball. So much for retirement.
"It's a dream come true," Firchau said. "I visited other museums and one thing that I noticed is the great museums had oral histories. You can listen to the voices telling the stories that took place, the people who were there when it happened, the great games.
"With all the great players and coaches that have been a part of high school basketball in Illinois, the window is closing fast. Then it will be gone forever. We need to record the stories of the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. We need to record as many of the old-timers as possible."
Firchau has launched this ambitious project with the help of retired coaches Ken Crawford of Teutopolis and Ken Wierzba of Farmington and veteran coach Mike Bailey of St. Patrick.
They interviewed their first subject, Dick Triptow, on May 1. Triptow, who will 90 on Nov. 3, is a Lane Tech graduate who had a great career at DePaul. He was a senior on Ray Meyer's first team. He played in the early days of the NBA and played with George Mikan on the Chicago American Gears' NBL championship team in 1947. He coached Lake Forest College's basketball team from 1959 to 1973.
Also on Firchau's agenda area former Quincy coach and Waukegan administrator George Latham and Phil Judson, one of the stars of Hebron's 1952 team that defeated Latham's Quincy team for the state championship in one of the signature games in the history of the Illinois high school basketball tournament.
In upcoming weeks Firchau plans to interview Ann Penstone, longtime television announcer of the girls state basketball tournament; veteran girls coaches Carol Plodzien of Fremd and Pat Kennedy of Hersey; and Chuck Rolinski, longtime basketball coach at Toluca, one of the founders of the IBCA and father of the two-class basketball system.
He plans to travel to Decatur to do research on legendary Decatur coach Gay Kintner. He will interview the widow of Harold Baker, one of the stars of Kintner's 1936 state championship team, the manager of the team and Lisa McCubbin, Kintner's great grand-daughter who is completing a book on Kintner.
Firchau has talked with Teddy Eddleman, widow of legendary Centralia star Dike Eddleman. He is planning to talk with a college professor who is working on a book on the history of Wharton Field House in Moline. And he has talked to Lincoln coach Neil Alexander about the ball-press defense.
He also intends to interview retired Blue Mound coach Dick McDonald about small-school basketball, former Thornridge coach Ron Ferguson and the widow of former Centralia basketball player and Elk Grove football coach Don Schnake, who wrote a book on his former coach, Centralia's Arthur Trout. As a junior high school student, Schnake kept a scrapbook on Centralia star Dike Eddleman.
This summer, Firchau plans trips to Taylorville, Collinsville, Centralia, Mount Vernon and Cobden. He hopes to talk to former Taylorville stars Ron Bontemps and Johnny Orr, the widow of the late Collinsville coach Vergil Fletcher and former Collinsville star Bogie Redmon. He also hopes to talk to Chico Vaughn, who set an all-time career scoring record in the 1950s at Tamms that still stands, and old-timers who were coaching when the IBCA was founded in the 1970s.
That's not all. The IBCA Hall of Fame in Danville also is planning to include a visual library of as many state championship game films as they can uncover. Firchau already has the 1952, 1955 (six points in one second), 1961, 1965 and most of the finals since 1970. The 1947 ParisChampaign game has been promised. So has the controversial 1954 final between Du Sable and Mount Vernon.
Another fascinating film is Galesburg's 23-21 victory over Rock Island, the famous slowdown game, in the 1957 sectional final at Wharton Field House in Moline when Galesburg, led by Al Williams, Doug Mills and Elbert and Albert Kimbrough upset a highly rated Rock Island team featuring junior Don Nelson.
Another subject he plans to address is segregation, the all-black schools in the south, how the state tournament was before it was integrated in the 1950s, the people who helped to change the face of the game.
Another issue that Firchau hopes to resolve is a matter pitting Canton and the Illinois High School Association. Canton contends that during legendary coach Mark Peterman's career, he had a player who participated in four consecutive state finals from 1923 to 1926.
But there is no known documentation on the subject because, in those days, unless a player scored or made a foul, his name didn't appear in the official scorebook. Peterman claimed the youngster played one second as a freshman. But there is no evidence to confirm Peterman's claim.
"What is interesting is how the game has changed, how the officiating has changed," Firchau said. "There is so much athleticism now.
"I'm having a ball doing this project, going around the state, meeting all kinds of people, reliving the past, recalling old memories of great players and coaches and teams."