Chicago Cubs

IBCA looking for oral histories

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IBCA looking for oral histories

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."

The Godfather, Anthony Rizzo, lays down new law in Cubs clubhouse

The Godfather, Anthony Rizzo, lays down new law in Cubs clubhouse

MILWAUKEE – Javier Baez broke the code of silence when he mentioned to reporters the latest thing for a Cubs team that designed a Party Room for their state-of-the-art clubhouse at Wrigley Field, turned Jason Heyward’s Rain Delay Speech into World Series mythology and interviews each other in the dugout for pretend TV segments after hitting home runs.

“He doesn’t know how the Italian way works,” Anthony Rizzo said. “There are supposed to be team things that stay with the team.”

Baez let it slip before Friday’s game against the Milwaukee Brewers, replaying the dramatic 10-inning comeback victory from the night before at Miller Park. If you see the Cubs instantly disappear from the dugout, or a TV camera shows a shot of an empty dugout…    

“We got this new thing,” Baez said. “I don’t want to be the one saying it. I’ll just let him say it. But it’s really fun. When somebody’s mad, everybody walks in and we do some fun things that get us hyper. You guys ask Rizzo.”

The Godfather gave a cryptic response. Omerta is expected to be part of The Cubs Way.

“It’s a team retreat,” Rizzo said. “It’s not just me. It’s anyone who needs to let out some steam this late in the season. It’s a team thing. It’s a long season and you go through ups and downs. And there’s times where you get to that boiling point where you just want to kill anything in your way.”

Rizzo needed to vent and called his teammates into the visiting clubhouse on Thursday night after striking out with two runners on in the eighth inning of a tie game that could swing the National League Central race.

“Throughout the year, you go back in the tunnel probably 25 times,” Rizzo said. “You got to take it out somewhere. You can only stay sane so long. It’s September. It’s a team (thing) now.

“It’s worked. We’re 3-for-3 on it. But it’s not me gathering. It’s just whoever feels like it’s time – you’ll see the team rushing off the bench and going for a nice little retreat.”

In many ways, Rizzo sets the clubhouse tone with his laid-back vibe off the field and intense competitive streak on the field. Tom Verducci’s book, “The Cubs Way,” detailed a scene before last year’s World Series Game 7 where Rizzo got naked, played “Rocky” music, quoted movie lines and shadowboxed until reliever Hector Rondon joined “in on the hijinks, picked up an aerosol can of shoe cleaner and sprayed it in the direction of Rizzo’s groin.”

“This is strictly in-game,” Rizzo said. “You can’t do it, though, and be selfish and go on a nice little retreat when we’re winning. It’s got to be the right timing. It helps, too, because it’s been fun the last couple weeks since we started doing it.”

One obvious benefit: There are no annoying TV cameras. Like in late July when frustrated pitcher John Lackey bumped into Rizzo in the Wrigley Field dugout and exchanged words with the face-of-the-franchise first baseman.

“We’ve come together now,” Rizzo said. “It’s not about anyone. It’s about us. When things go wrong for a certain individual, we rally around him. And that’s what we got to keep doing from here on out.”

Javier Baez stars for Cubs while his mind drifts to Hurricane Maria and family in Puerto Rico

Javier Baez stars for Cubs while his mind drifts to Hurricane Maria and family in Puerto Rico

MILWAUKEE – Javier Baez tries to use baseball as an escape, but his thoughts inevitably drift toward Puerto Rico and the damage and destruction Hurricane Maria has inflicted on his beloved island.  

“I’ve been doing my best to stay in the game,” Baez said. “But, really, my mind has been over there, trying to find out about family, how they’re doing.”

Baez could compartmentalize enough in the ninth inning to deliver the two-out, two-strike, game-tying RBI single on Thursday night at Miller Park, setting the stage for a dramatic 5-3 comeback victory over the Milwaukee Brewers that created a huge shift in momentum for the Cubs in the National League Central race.  

But several Cubs have been distracted during this nightmare hurricane season, seeing the haunting images on TV and thinking about more than magic numbers. Baez finally made contact with his brother, Gadiel, before Friday’s game in Milwaukee.

“He finally found a spot that has service. Everybody’s disconnected,” Baez said. “It’s been really, really crazy over there. They say there’s no trees in Puerto Rico right now.

“It’s really bad. (But) there are still people smiling and trying to get through it. We got no (other) option. Our whole family is over there. I think if we work together, the process is going to be faster and the help is going to be (stronger). Hopefully, everybody stays together and just tries to help.”

Baez has been using his social-media platforms, asking for prayers and helping raise funds through the GoFundMe page started by catcher Rene Rivera’s family and supported by teammate Victor Caratini.

Known for his flash and highlight-reel moments, Baez is actually more of a low-key personality off the field, close to his family and developing into one of the most important and dependable players for the defending World Series champs.       

“Sometimes, when you are going through difficult moments,” manager Joe Maddon said, “getting out there kind of is that little island that you need just to park your brain for a couple hours.

“You keep reading about it. You’re talking four-to-six months without power. When you read those lines, you know it’s devastating. But live it.

“Again, as an athlete, when you’re going through difficulties outside of your occupation, sometimes it’s the best place to be for those couple hours. And then you go back to reality afterwards.

“Javy has been on the stage. He’s had the bright lights shining on him for a long period of time for a young guy. He’s learned how to handle this pretty well.”

Baez starred for the team that made it to the World Baseball Classic championship game in March. He could feel the pride and energy and what that meant to Puerto Rico during an economic crisis.

“Our whole island, they were there for us,” Baez said. “If we really work together, we can get through it faster, and everything’s going to be OK over there.”