Rich South's George Egofske was a trend-setter, a visionary, a mover-and-shaker, whether he was coaching football or directing all of his school's sports programs or overseeing the Big Dipper Holiday Tournament.
In 1970, while serving as football coach at Rich East, Egofske scheduled his season opener against perennial power Evanston. His players worked hard all summer with one objective in mind: beat Evanston. Egofske was matched against one of the most successful coaches in state history, Murney Lazier, and he was determined to win the moment. He did.
In 1973, Egofske seized another moment. He founded the Big Dipper Holiday Tournament. To steal some glitter from the high celebrated Proviso West Holiday Tournament, he wanted to conduct a community oriented event where teams could enjoy great competition and still be close to home during the holidays.
"It was a great chance to keep the local talent at home and give fans access to it," said Kevin Kelly, a tournament historian who has been involved with the event since 1984.
"When George was involved, it was mostly south suburban schools. Rich South is the only school that has been in the field for every year. Crete-Monee missed only the first tournament."
Egofske, now 81 and retired after serving as Rich South's athletic director from 1973 to the mid-1990s, also was an innovator. In 1983, he introduced the three-point shooting line and the 35-second shot clock to the tournament. And he also introduced a coach's box before the National High School Federation thought of it.
"The Big Dipper is in its 39th year and it has had only three tournament directors -- Egofske, Ron Ray and Mark Hopman," Kelly said. "And each has put his own fingerprints on the tournament."
Egofske brought a Class A team, Watseka, to the tournament. To be more competitive with Proviso West, Ray lured Class A powers Leo and Hales Franciscan and two perennial south suburban powers to join the field. He wooed Bloom away from Pontiac and Thornton away from Centralia. Hopman brought in a major sponsor, McDonald's.
Egofske also brought in Kelly, a Marian Catholic graduate of 1980 who was a sportswriter at the Chicago Heights Star for 15 years before becoming the public relations director and assistant athletic director at Marian Catholic. A figure filbert, Kelly was just what Egofske was looking for in a promoter for the tournament.
Last year was the first year that McDonald's sponsored the event. So it is now called the Rich South Mc-Dipper Tournament. Melvin Buckley, a former Thornwood player who coached at Marian Catholic for two years, owns several McDonald's franchises in the south suburbs, including one directly across the street from the Richton Park school.
This year's opening-round pairings will pit Seton vs. Rich Central, Thornton vs. Leo, Rich East vs. Evanston and Tinley Park vs. Crete-Monee in the upper bracket with Corliss vs. Bloom, Bolingbrook vs. Marian Catholic, Joliet Central vs. Rich South and Lincoln Park vs. Hales Franciscan in the lower bracket.
Kelly recalls many fond memories of past tournaments:
The run that coach Ron Brauer had in the mid-1980s with his Rich Central teams led by Kendall Gill. And their matchups with Phil Henderson and Crete-Monee, which won in 1986 and 1987 with overtime victories over Oak Forest and Tinley Park.
Bloom coming to the Big Dipper in 1993 after a long and successful run at Pontiac. But the Trojans have won only once, in 1995.
Thornton coming to the Big Dipper in 1996 after a long and successful run at Centralia. Thornton has won seven titles, Rich Central nine.
The great St. Laurence teams led by Kevin Boyle and Jim Stack in the late 1970s.
Evanston is returning to the Big Dipper after a long run at Proviso West. The Wildkits, led by Everette Stephens and Mike Cobb, won Big Dipper titles in 1983 and 1984.
The all-time Big Dipper team? How about St. Laurence's Steve Krafcisin, Oak Forest's Phil Collins, Evanston's Everette Stephens, Thornton's Joevan Catron and Shepard's Mike Smith?
That's a pretty good lineup, Kelly agrees, but how about Rich Central's Kendall and Eric Gill, Homewood-Flossmoor's Chris Dillard and Crete-Monee's Phil Henderson and Weldon Williams?
"Now we're getting packed houses on most nights, so much so that we have to bring in more security," Kelly said. "But the tournament is committed to keeping ticket prices at reasonable rates. Sessions are 5 for four games."
That's not to mention the other perks that make the Big Dipper a premier event -- the pre-tournament dinner for coaches and media to announce the pairings and the hospitality room that annually draws raves from coaches, media and officials for its tasty cuisine and specialty items.
Kelly points out all the credit for running a smooth ship in the hospitality room goes to Nancy Adduci, who has served as secretary for all three athletic directors. She is the true MVP of the tournament.