Hooping it up: Rolinski keeps basketball alive in Toluca - The Times: Life

Hooping it up: Rolinski keeps basketball alive in Toluca

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Posted: Friday, February 15, 2013 11:14 am

In the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association office in Toluca, long-time basketball coach Chuck Rolinski sits behind stacks of papers, photos and notes.

His bulletin board is full of newspaper clippings and notices. Having retired from his coaching career more than 20 years ago, 80-year-old Rolinski still keeps himself plenty busy with the sport.

"I don't go to the games as much anymore," Rolinski said. "That's getting to be too hard for me, especially after working with this all day."

Rolinski and former coach Sherrill Hanks, of Quincy, started the IIBCA in 1971. Rolinski, the IBCA's executive director and treasurer, isworking on contributions for the IBCA Hall of Fame Museum in Danville.

One of the longer lists on his desk would be all of the honors and awards for Rolinski himself.

The list starts in 1973, when Rolinski was named Man of the Year by the Streator Fraternal Order of the Eagles. The awards and inductions continued throughout the decades, with his last big win taking place in 2006 when he was named one of the Illinois High School Association's 100 Legends.

In 34 years as Toluca's head basketball coach, Rolinski won 59 major championships, 17 Tri-County conference championships and 14 regional titles, ending his career with a record of 649-252. He was obviously doing something right.

"I stressed fundamentals," Rolinski said. "The passing, dribbling, shooting. Fundamentals have to be stressed more today. Coaches have to come up with a good offense and you have to stay with that offense. We used the same offense every year and adapted our players to it. Kids would learn it in grade school and practice on the playground."

Rolinski isn't thought of as just a winning coach. He also is known as the father of the two-class IHSA state basketball tournament, a hard-earned fight that gave small towns a chance at trophies. Forty-plus years later, Rolinski remembers the stats, teams and players that contributed to his reasoning for making the fight.

"Toluca was in a small-school regional until 1967," Rolinski said. "We beat La Salle-Peru who was rated fifth in state that year, for the first game in sectional. Then we upset Lockport in triple overtime in the sectional finals. For our supersectional game against Pekin, the town was going crazy. It was one of the greatest things that ever happened in Toluca."

The following year, new high schools were opening in Chicago and its suburbs as the population increased. The IHSA needed to find more regional tournaments to accommodate these new schools. As a result, Toluca's regional of small schools was demoted to district designation. The district winner would move on to regional competition.

"We were a bunch of great teams and now we had to play each other just to get into regional competition," Rolinski said.

Toluca won all four districts from 1968-1971, but Rolinski saw it was unfair, saying they had to play an extra tournament just to make it to the regional.

"You could see the power shifting to the industrial cities," Rolinski said. "There were districts all over the state, especially in the south."

More districts meant fewer opportunities for district-relegated schools to play for a regional championship. Rolinski's major goal at the beginning of a season was always to win a regional championship.

"When I fought for two-class basketball, I wanted to create more regionals," Rolinski said. "You wouldn't believe what I did. I started to write people, the big shots, to get publicity. I got the TV media behind me. I wrote a scathing letter to every school in the state. I raised hell."

The two-class system was adopted in 1972, the 312-293 vote being the most controversial vote in IHSA history.

"It rejuvenated basketball, especially in southern Illinois," Rolinski said. "Teams were getting sent to tough regionals. There was no way these small schools were going to beat those teams."

When the system was implemented, 128 regional championships were up for grabs as opposed to 64.

"I'll never forget the phone call," Rolinski recalls of an opposing voter. "'Congratulations, you won.' Click. I had a lot of people who hated me for it, but a lot of people who loved me, too."

Basketball since has been split into four state tournament classes. Rolinski is not a fan of what he sees on the court today.

"It's getting rougher every day," Rolinski said. "It's like the world wrestling association out there. It's getting too physical. You couldn't do that in the 60s and 70s. Now it's all about shooting the three or getting the dunk. That's not shooting."

Toward the end of Rolinski's career, enrollment was declining at Toluca High School. In 1992, just two years after Rolinski retired from coaching, the high school closed and consolidated with Minonk-Dana-Rutland and Wenona. Rolinski says fewer kids have been going out for basketball since the consolidation.

"It really hurt when they took our middle school, too," Rolinski said. "When I was coaching, all the grade school kids came to watch. You lose that when you lose your school. Kids aren't as eager to go out for basketball."

Although high school basketball no longer exists in Toluca, Rolinski is keeping the sport alive with the IBCA. He is constantly promoting basketball, offering clinics and recognizing coaches and players in the Hall of Fame. The IBCA now administers a job placement service and awards coach-of-the-year honors to coaches in every district.

"We do a lot for our members," Rolinski said. "And our success has come from our members' willingness to pick up and serve where you're needed."

Rolinski still lives in Toluca with his wife, Anita. They have four children (a son who was a point guard for Rolinski and three daughters who all were cheerleaders), 10 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

The retired coach is a former Toluca player, Class of 1950 valedictorian, a former infantry sergeant and a graduate of Illinois State University.

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