A selection committee comprised of school administrators, coaches and community members voted in Richie Gilbert (wrestling/football), Tim McGonagle (soccer/baseball), Jerry Noyce (tennis), and Jesse Opdycke (soccer/volleyball) along with coaches Elias George (wrestling) and Ron Helberg (track and field).
Also chosen were the 1960 football team and the 2003 girls track and field squad.
The newest Hall of Fame class will be recognized on Friday at halftime of the varsity football game against Proviso West at Memorial Stadium. A luncheon in their honor will be held on Saturday at ETHS.
RICHIE GILBERT, CLASS OF 1951
Richie Gilbert put Evanston on the state wrestling map when he broke through to become the school’s first state champion in the sport.
But Gilbert was also a trailblazer in another way. He’s believed to be the first African-American starting quarterback at ETHS, guiding the 1950 Wildkit squad to a 7-1 season and a second place finish in the Suburban League as a senior.
Gilbert’s breakthrough on the mat actually started with a third place finish in the Illinois High School Association state tournament as a junior. Competing at 145 pounds, he bounced back from an opening round loss (11-8 to the eventual runnerup, Charles Pankow of Lyons) with three consecutive victories. He won via forfeit over Joe Affronti of Chicago Austin, pinned Frank Witt of Rock Island in 3 minutes, 4 seconds, and then earned sweet revenge for a sectional loss to rival Donald Rumsfeld of New Trier, by a referee’s decision in Champaign.
Gilbert moved up in weight class to 154 pounds as a senior and showed a knack for winning the close ones on his way to the IHSA crown. He won two referee’s decisions in four bouts at the state finals, including a decision over Fred Loffredo of Tilden Tech in the title match after the two grapplers were tied at 1-1 at the end of regulation.
Gilbert topped Ed Dargis of Morgan Park Academy 8-2 in the first round at state, edged Lyle Matzick of Sterling by a referee’s decision that decided a scoreless tie, and advanced to the finals with a 5-3 trimming of Lionel Bloom of Chicago Austin.
In football, Gilbert moved into a starting role in head coach Karl Plath’s relatively new T-formation alignment, replacing graduated all-league quarterback Jim Miller.
TIM MCGONAGLE, CLASS OF 1971
Not many athletes in Evanston’s long history put together a resume like Tim McGonagle in soccer, baseball and basketball.
And none of them had a Hall of Fame father, either.
McGonagle joins his legendary father Ken, a 2013 inductee as a coach, making them the first father-son combination to reach the ETHS Hall. The younger McGonagle was a three-sport standout who won both the Noyes Trophy (outstanding male athlete) and Oliver Beaty Cunningham (outstanding ETHS male) his senior year at ETHS.
Now a successful physician, Tim McGonagle said his relationship with his father never suffered because of the unique pressures that come with what can be a combustible mixture on and off the playing field for both fathers and sons.
Ken McGonagle’s decision to take a year off from coaching to pursue a master’s degree at Indiana University during Tim’s junior year paid dividends both professionally and personally. By the time he returned as the ETHS head coach in both soccer and baseball, Tim had already established himself as a player, having been voted as a team captain in both sports for the following year.
“I think my Dad was a little concerned about what would happen when he coached me, even though he had the confidence that I’d be a good enough player. Nepotism could have been a big issue and it’s tough if the son is only a borderline player,” Tim recalled. “But I was able to become a starter in both sports and I was elected a captain in both sports, so by the time he came back from Indiana we were over that hump. I think it worked out well for both of us.
“I called him Coach in practice and on the field and I never felt stressed about having my Dad for a coach. I think he was a little tougher on me than on some of the other guys, but it was only because he was pushing me to go harder and be a better player.
“The coaching staff graded every player after every soccer game. You got a blank if you performed as they expected you to, a plus if you played better than expected, and a minus if you didn’t play up to expectations. I was graded pretty tough. We could win 3-0 and I’d have a goal and an assist, and my grade would be a blank.”
Tim McGonagle never played in a losing soccer game in high school, with only three ties as a sophomore marring that record. He led the Wildkits to back-to-back undefeated seasons as a junior and senior, and the Wildkits were named mythical state champions both seasons by the state soccer coaches association.
McGonagle missed his entire freshman year due to knee surgery but made up for lost time in all three sports. In soccer, he led the Wildkits with 19 goals as a senior, including a memorable score against arch-rival New Trier East that clinched another state title.
“I remember coming into my senior year we talked about setting goals, and how could we improve on last year after going undefeated as juniors,” McGonagle said. “So we came up with two goals. The first was that as juniors we had won two of those games (in a 15-0 season) in overtime, so we wanted to go undefeated and not have to play any overtime games.
“The second goal was to be good enough to beat whoever the second best team was even if we played our worst and they played their best.”
That’s exactly what happened. The schedule lined up so that the matchup with No. 2 ranked New Trier East was the final game of the season in the era before a state tournament existed. McGonagle scored the only goal — with 1 minute, 53 seconds remaining — on a header off a corner kick from long-time buddy Larry Weisgal, the 1-0 triumph clinching another perfect season.
“We were all banged up coming into that game, and we all felt it was one of the worst games we played all year,” McGonagle said. “Larry Weisgal was a childhood friend and we had spent hours and hours playing together. He put a perfect ball up there on that corner, and it was a dream come true for both of us.”
McGonagle was the starting shortstop for the Wildkit baseball team that earned Evanston’s only summer state championship in 1970. He went on to earn all-Suburban League and All-Area honors in 1971, and also played two years of varsity basketball at ETHS.
“The real highlight for me in baseball was that summer state championship, because we got to play in the finals at Comiskey Park,” he said. “That was a super thrill for both my Dad and for me, because he had played minor league ball for several years but didn’t get to the majors.
“We had a lot of fun playing baseball. My Dad was an innovator who monitored where all the other teams’ hits went and he developed a 5-man infield that we used in most of our games.”
McGonagle played both baseball and soccer at Indiana University, although he was there on a full baseball scholarship. “I wanted to play both sports and Indiana gave me that opportunity,” he said. “It was difficult and not too many guys played two sports in college in those days. But I came out of ETHS fully used to always having to practice something every single afternoon, and I just continued to do that in college.”
McGonagle started all four years for the soccer squad, which was twice ranked in the top 15 in Division I, and earned the Outstanding Sportsmanship Award (1973) and Joe Gunnell Outstanding Senior Award (1974) at IU.
In baseball, he saw little playing time as a freshman and sophomore but worked his way into the starting lineup by the second half of his junior year. As a senior, he was named Most Valuable Player and was team captain.
JERRY NOYCE, CLASS OF 1962
One week made a big difference in the athletic career of Jerry Noyce.
That was the week between the end of the basketball season at Evanston and the start of the spring sports season. That was the turning point that set Noyce on the path to a Illinois High School Association state doubles championship in tennis and, eventually, to the ETHS Hall of Fame.
Noyce played soccer and basketball as a freshman at ETHS and intended to try out for the baseball team that spring. But head tennis coach Keith Andersen recognized some raw athletic ability in the teenager and offered him this recruiting pitch.
“He said you’ve got a one week break between basketball and baseball, so why don’t you come out for tennis?” Noyce recalled. “Come out for a week, and if you don’t like it, then it’s just a learning experience for you.
“So I came out — and I never left.”
Noyce emerged as a standout in a program that was in its heyday at Evanston at that point. By the time Noyce graduated in the spring of 1962, the Wildkits had won three consecutive Illinois High School Association state tennis team championships under Andersen.
After combining with partner Bob Scott to capture the IHSA doubles crown that spring, Noyce played No. 1 singles and No. 1 doubles at the University of Minnesota, then coached the Gophers for 15 years and won three Big 10 Conference titles.
He was named Division I Tennis Coach of the Year in 1986 and is a member of the Intercollegiate Tennis Association Hall of Fame. In 2007 he was appointed by President George Bush to the President’s Council of Sports and Fitness.
It all began with Andersen’s recruiting pitch.
“I know he recruited other guys like Bob Majors in a similar fashion,” Noyce said. “He really gave us a lot of confidence that we could be successful, and my senior year everyone on the team went on to play Division I college tennis.
“Coach Andersen didn’t want the ‘country clubbers’. He had a plan to build the team and found players to be part of the culture he wanted to create. He encouraged us to work hard and he wanted players with more of a hard-nosed attitude. We always took pride in beating the country clubbers from New Trier and Hinsdale. We played some teams that had as much or more talent, but no team was tougher.
“When I was a freshman I was so raw I couldn’t hit a forehand or a backhand. I could serve pretty well because serving was similar to throwing a baseball, and he worked with me to help me get better. Bob Scott eventually partnered with me and both of us had pretty good serves. Coach also taught us to be very aggressive at the net.”
Noyce had success as an underclassman, winning Suburban League titles on the lower levels as both a freshman and sophomore. As a junior, he held the No. 3 singles slot, but he and Scott were denied a trip to the state doubles tournament when they lost in the semifinals of a loaded regional that featured three of the top doubles teams in the entire state.
Noyce and Scott renewed the efforts and that disappointment helped them climb all the way to the top as seniors.
“Bob and I were really determined because we felt we should have won it as juniors,” Noyce said. “I had a good soccer career going and I really loved playing for Ken McGonagle, but I knew it was really important to our team that I had to put in more time playing tennis in the fall, so I gave up soccer. That was really hard for me. But I also felt like tennis was the best chance for me to get a college scholarship.
“Being on the court more with guys like Bob Scott and Bob Emery and Dave Power and working with them really helped me make a big leap in my game, and I really progressed.”
At the state finals in Champaign, Noyce and Scott defeated Kent Ayers and Mike Nolan of Stephen Decatur by a 6-3, 6-4 margin to claim the doubles title. “I remember that we didn’t lose a set at the state tournament, and we only lost maybe 2 or 3 games going into the finals,” said Noyce.
“Getting into the Hall of Fame is something I really cherish. I learned some great life lessons at ETHS.”
JESSE OPDYCKE, CLASS OF 1990
Followers of the sport call soccer “the beautiful game” but Jesse Opdycke is the first one to admit that the way he played wasn’t pretty.
But Opdycke’s aggressive, physical defensive style epitomized the Evanston program’s reputation for hard-nosed play and helped him earn a spot in the ETHS Hall of Fame.
Opdycke led the Wildkits in scoring while earning All-Midwest, All-State, All-Sectional and All-Conference honors as a senior and went on to start four years at Miami of Ohio. He was also a member of the ETHS boys volleyball squad that won a mythical state championship in the spring of 1990.
“Jesse was a very talented athlete and he was a leader for us on and off the field,” said former Wildkit soccer coach Tom Chmela. “He was a hard-nosed player who gave you everything, all the time. Jesse was one of the top five players I had the honor of coaching at ETHS, and he is well-deserving of this award.”
“I’m overwhelmed by this selection, because there have been a lot of great soccer players come through Evanston,” said Opdycke. “Coach Chmela was hands-down the best soccer coach I ever had. He recognized that I was an athlete and I was big, so he wanted me on the field. He wanted the best athletes out there.
“I was very physical and aggressive and I was confident that no one could get by me 1-on-1. When I was a junior Coach would identify the best striker or goal scorer on the other team and he’d say that’s your guy (to guard). I was also the leading scorer as a senior, but most of those goals came on dead balls (restarts). I was not one of those guys who’d score a brilliant goal from 30 yards out. Soccer is called the beautiful game, but I didn’t really play that way. I was very physical and I wouldn’t stand down from anyone. I did whatever I could to win.”
Opdycke started three years on the ETHS varsity, switching to defense as a sophomore after playing the striker position for an undefeated freshman squad. He also played varsity baseball as a junior, but missed so much time during the spring playing for the Junior Olympic development soccer team that he stopped playing baseball to focus on soccer.
So with a soccer scholarship to Miami in his pocket as a senior, that left Opdycke seeking another athletic challenge during his final spring season. He wound up as a starter for Evanston’s powerhouse boys volleyball squad, which went on to earn the mythical state championship in the era before the Illinois High School Association sanctioned a state tournament series.
Evanston posted a 36-2 won-loss record that season and Opdycke is quick to point out that both losses took place during the ETHS spring break when the starters were all absent.
“I had those big soccer legs and I could dunk a volleyball, and during the 1980s and 1990s Evanston was hands down the best volleyball program in the state,” Opdycke pointed out. “My friends were volleyball players, so I decided to join them. I started every match, but really the fact was that I was surrounded by some incredible players. We just smoked everyone!”
Opdycke started all four seasons at Miami of Ohio, and as a junior he was the defensive Most Valuable Player for a team that ranked No. 23 in the country. The highlight of his senior season was a tie with Wisconsin, which went on to win the national championship the following year.
ELIAS GEORGE, WRESTLING COACH
There probably isn’t a coach or teacher in Evanston’s entire history that impacted more teenagers than Elias George. He coached wrestling for more than 50 years, including 42 as the head coach, and competed nationally and internationally while serving as a father figure for the thousands of grapplers who came through ETHS on his watch.
He retired from teaching in 1987 — and kept coaching. And even after he stepped down from his position as head coach at the end of the 1999-2000 season, he helped out as an assistant under his successor, Wilbur Borrero.
George’s long tenure included eight top 10 finishes at the Illinois High School Association state finals, including a tie for second place in the team standings in 1967, the best finish in ETHS history. He ranked third nationally with 614 wins, 158 losses and 25 ties in dual meet competition since he first took the job in 1958.
Nine individuals — Robert Sheppard in 1959, Bob Pickens in 1961, Fred Annegars in 1962, Guy Ward in 1966, Errol Wilson in 1967, Albert Meredith in 1971, George Patterson in 1981, Tom Andrews in 1982 and Shannyn Gillespie in 1989 — captured individual state titles under George. But the list of wrestlers he mentored is much, much longer.
“Elias did things without a lot of accolades and he was always there for the kids,” said Pickens, an All-Stater in two sports at Evanston. “He built a lot of men, even if he didn’t win a lot of championships. He had a heart as big as the Empire State building and he was the quintessential mentor. He’s been a significant force in our community for a long time, and he taught us the value of hard work.
“He saw something in me that no one else saw and Coach George was really like a father to me. He discovered a talent I didn’t know I had and I’m indebted to him for not giving up on me as a person. After I left Evanston I had trouble with the coach at Wisconsin and I told him I was going to quit college and join the Marines. I just needed a break. He was very instrumental at getting me into Nebraska, and I got a second chance because of him. He helped me get a shot at the Olympics.”
George also coached football at ETHS and took over as the interim varsity head coach when Tom Powers resigned two weeks into the 1987 season. The Wildkits bounced back from an 0-2 record to qualify for the IHSA state playoffs and finished 7-4 overall.
But his first love was wrestling. A native of Canonsburg, Pa., he won a state championship in 1942 and excelled at two different universities, winning a Big Ten championship at Indiana University and then serving as a captain for the undefeated Oklahoma State team in 1949, placing fourth in the NCAA tournament at 145 pounds.
He is a member of the Pennsylvania Hall of Fame, has been inducted into the Illinois Wrestling Hall of Fame and also served on the United States Olympic wrestling committee for eight years.
Since 2009, the outstanding wrestler awards at the annual Central Suburban League wrestling tournament has been designated the Elias George Award.
After stepping down from his post as head coach, George was quoted in a newspaper interview that “no one can ever take away the rapport I’ve had with the kids over the years. They knew I had their best interests at heart. I got the wrestling bug when I was in fourth or fifth grade, and wrestling’s been my life ever since.”
RON HELBERG, TRACK AND FIELD COACH
Like a comet bursting upon the Illinois high school track and field scene, Ron Helberg led Evanston to unprecedented success in his eight years as head coach between 1968 and 1975. Under his guidance, ETHS won state titles in 1970, 1971, 1972 and 1974; won six district team titles; and claimed a total of 10 indoor/outdoor Suburban League team championships.
He’s credited with coaching the first 60-foot shotputter in state history (Andy Marutka at Palatine in 1962); the national record-setter in the 880-yard dash (Larry Kelly of Maine East in 1964); and the first 7-foot high jumper in state history (Evanston’s Nat Page in 1975).
Helberg also coached two of the best sprinters in Illinois history at Evanston, Howard Jones and Joe Stewart.
“All I did with Howard Jones was not goof things up,” said the modest coach. “I really enjoyed working with him. He was undefeated for three years (in the 100 and 220-yard dashes) and the only thing he really didn’t like was when I asked him to run the mile relay.
“The first time I ever saw him run was in an intramural meet against the varsity when he was a freshman right before Christmas. He had no track shoes, no shorts and he still came out and dusted our best sprinter — Bruce King — with a 5.4 in the 50-yard dash.
“We knew we had something special in Howard back in 1970. He ran in mostly sophomore meets until we got outdoors for the Proviso East Relays. He got beat in the 100 and I just couldn’t believe it! But when I checked it out, I found out that he had his starting blocks reversed and actually took a step backward at the start of the race. We made a change — and he never lost another race.”
With Jones winning both sprints and also helping ETHS take the state title in the 880-yard relay, all the Wildkits needed to secure the crown was a third place finish by Steve Van Swearingen in the 2-mile run to edge Alton 21-17 for the team championship.
The Wildkits tripped East Moline by a 24-21 margin at the 1971 IHSA finals, and outscored Chicago Heights Bloom 28-20 for the 1972 title. In 1974, a pair of sprint titles won by Stewart and Page’s high jump championship helped the Kits tie Lane Tech for the top team honors with 27 points apiece.
No team has maximized its points better than the 1972 group. The Wildkits qualified for the finals in five events after Friday’s preliminaries — and won four of them.
Jones repeated as champion in the 100 and 220, and combined with Jerome Maye, Stewart and Rick Strong to rule the 880 relay. Larry Bates raced to the gold medal in the 880 and Gary Stajduhar placed second in the shot put to complete the championship effort.
“Larry Bates was a guy I had to talk into being a state champion,” Helberg recalled. “He had placed at State as a junior (5th in the mile run) and I took the distance kids the next year because we lost our distance coach. Bates had knee problems and he was only able to do workouts on the grass, not on the track. We just told him to do the best he could.
“In April he ran a 1:55 or 1:56 in the 880 at New Trier West, and after that he kept dropping time every week in the half. He ran some mile races, too, and at the district meet he said he’d like to run the mile. I kept telling that he didn’t have enough background (built up stamina and strength) to run the mile and I asked him to be a leader, that the team would benefit more if he ran the half. I had to talk him into becoming a state champion.
“One of the things I’ve always thought as a coach was that my athletes would come to compete. At some schools the expectation was just to qualify for State, but at Evanston our kids were expected to win State, and we built on that.”
Helberg was named the Midwest Coach of the Year in 1972 and 1974 by the National High School Coaches Association, and after leaving Evanston went on to become athletic director at Hoffman Estates and Glenbrook South before retiring in 1994. He helped found the Illinois Track and Cross Country Coaches Association and is a member of that organization’s Hall of Fame, along with the National Coaches Association Hall of Fame, the Illinois Athletic Directors Association Hall of Fame, and the Illinois Track and Field Officials Association Hall of Fame.
In 2000, Helberg was selected as the honorary referee at the IHSA state meet. He officiated at the state meet for more than three decades leading up to that honor.
1960 FOOTBALL TEAM
No one was more excited than legendary Evanston head football coach Murney Lazier when he glanced at the roster to start the 1960 season. He finally had some big tackles — seniors Owen Thomas at 6-foot-2, 223-pounds and Horace Grunsten at 6-2, 206 along with future star Bob Pickens, a junior — to power his running game in his third season at the helm.
With an offensive line that ranked among the best in school history showing the way, the Wildkits racked up a 7-0-1 record and earned Lazier’s first mythical state championship as selected by the Champaign News-Gazette newspaper.
Thomas, end Bob Genenz and halfback Bernard “Sam” Ward were named to the All-State team as the Kits outscored the opposition 205-41, with only a season-ending 7-7 tie with Niles (and future NFL quarterback Jim Hart) on a muddy field marring an otherwise perfect campaign.
Both Thomas and Pickens went on to play professionally in the National Football League, but they weren’t the only stars in an offensive line that also included Steve Johnson, Phil Holm, and Bill Kearney. Other key players were fullback Mike Arrington, halfback Toby Wilt, defensive end Dan Durschlag and quarterbacks Bob Majors and Doug Holcomb.
“That 1960 line was extremely smart,” praised Lazier in his nomination letter for the ETHS Hall of Fame. “They could automatic on the line all the necessary line calls to maximize blocking angles, pick up stunts, cover and moved opponents. We borrowed techniques from wrestling such as the arm drag and squirm move. They all had consistently high blocking scores every game.”
“Some of us were shrimps by today’s standards,” admitted center Phil Holm, who missed the second half of that season with a dislocated knee. “We were not big, not at all, but we were a fine-tuned machine. Everyone was pretty good academically and we were well-coached. We knew how to adjust when we came up to the line, and we knew what to do against any kind of alignment.”
“When everything works right, like it did that year, it’s because the line is doing its’ job,” added Kearney. “I remember I worked like crazy over the summer between my junior and senior years and got stronger and gained 20 pounds (up to 185). I learned good technique from the coaches we had, and if I got beat I could leg whip guys — it was legal then — and make them collapse like a tree. I had to use every bit of energy I had at my size.
“I was always second or third in the film grades and Steve Johnson was the guy I always tried to beat. I just tried to play every play like it was my last play. That’s the way we were coached.”
One moment Kearney will never forget came at the end of a 45-0 romp over New Trier in Week 3 that season. “We just killed New Trier, and after that we soared to the top of the rankings,” he said. “And when we left the field that night, New Trier’s fans actually cheered us!”
Evanston needed a touchdown by Ward in the final two minutes of the season finale to salvage that 7-7 tie with Niles, the culmination of a long drive in sloppy weather.
2003 GIRLS TRACK AND FIELD TEAM
Combine two of the best runners in school history — Shalina Clarke and Demeca Hill — with others who accepted different roles for the Evanston girls track program and you have a recipe for extended success at the school that was only matched by the ETHS boys swim team in the 1950s.
Coach Fenton Gunter’s girls reached the pinnacle in track and field with four straight Illinois High School Association state championships from 2003 to 2006, breaking up a dynasty by Morgan Park and creating one of their own.
The Wildkits piled up 87 points in 2003, outscored Morgan Park 76-72 in 2004, and blew away the competition in the final two years of that streak .
How good were the Kits? They didn’t even need the talented Hall of Famer Clarke — winner of six gold medals in individual races and the holder of the 300-meter hurdle state record — to participate on any of the 11 relay units that scored top five finishes at State.
Both Clarke and Hill entered the program as freshmen in 2003 and Hill went on to run for seven relay state championship units, including titles in the 400, 800 medley and 800 relays when she was a scrawny first-year runner. She teamed with Traciann Henry, Mya Edwards and Coretta Evans in both the 400 and state record-setting 800 races, and was part of the medley gold medal performance along with Edwards, Evans and Sean Adigun.
“I remember that De De (Hill) really enjoyed putting on a show for the crowd wherever we ran,” Gunter said. “She usually ran the first leg, and when she broke that stagger and ran past everybody in front of her, she really got the crowd excited. She loved it when that happened.
“That first year she led off the medley team, anchored the 4 x 200 and that was pretty big shoes for a freshman to fill. She was very mature and responsible for her age back then. She’s one of a handful of girls in state history who were quality relay runners.”
Evanston’s foundation for success that first year, however, was laid when Gunter convinced senior Mya Edwards to relinquish her role of individual races to build better relay units. “We were able to convince Mya she could make better contributions to the team on the relays, and she really solidified the relays,” the coach said. “It was hard to ask a senior to give up an individual spot, but we were able to sell her on it.
“We had a lot of other girls who were able to step in and make big contributions. On the relays, we had kids who bought into the team concept and that way we were able to spread the (scoring) load more. I think we’ve been consistent when it comes to treating everyone the same, because when you do that, you get positive results.”
The title run that began in 2003 featured sacrifices from others besides Edwards. “Coretta Evans always thought she was a basketball player first, but she gave up basketball. And we got Jamila Smith (8th in the 100 hurdles, 11th in the triple jump) to focus on the short hurdle race that year when she really didn’t want to,” Gunter recalled.
“We didn’t focus on winning the meet, just on performing at a high level. We had a lot of success that first day (in preliminary qualifying) and we just kept the heat on while other teams didn’t handle the pressure real well. I remember that first relay really set the tone — Coretta ran like a madwoman — and we went on to sweep all of the relays. Only two other teams had done that before.”
Henry contributed runnerup finishes in the open 100 and 200 and the unit of Edwards, Adigun, Evans and another freshman — Morgan Pointer — completed the relay sweep in the 1600 with a winning time of 3:50.44.