Six individuals and two teams have been voted into the Evanston Township High School Athletic Hall of Fame by a committee of coaches, administrators, faculty members and community representatives this summer.
The Class of 2020, which will be recognized at ETHS at a future date, includes Austin Brown, Class of 2003; Tranquil Wilson, Class of 1989; Jeff Moore, Class of 1960; Norton “Evy” Hellstrom, Class of 1917; and former coaches Chet Renner and Emil “Heinie” Schultz.
The latest teams to earn HOF induction are the 1975-76 boys soccer team, and the 1989-90 girls swimming and diving team.
AUSTIN BROWN, BASKETBALL
Austin Brown averaged 6.4 points and 3.3 rebounds while providing strong defense in his role as a starter for the 2003 Evanston basketball team that placed fourth in the Illinois High School Association Class AA tournament.
But his Hall of Fame resume goes beyond what he accomplished as a player. Brown’s contributions to the sport continue to expand in his role as one of the top player agents in the country.
And the 2003 ETHS graduate may be heard from even more in the future, if he decides to join the trend in the National Basketball Association that finds pro teams hiring agents for front office positions. Brown has already turned down an offer from the Minnesota Timberwolves and was rumored to be a strong candidate for positions with the New York Knicks or Chicago Bulls, too.
Currently, Brown is the co-head of the basketball division for the renowned Creative Artists Agency (CAA). His client list includes 6 players taken in the first round of the NBA draft the past 2 seasons, including the No. 1 pick in 2019, Zion Williamson of the New Orleans Pelicans.
Overall, Brown and his team orchestrated more than $820 million in deals during the 2019 NBA season, including $415 million in free agent contracts for veterans. Besides Williamson, his client list is made up of top players like Dwyane Wade, Jaren Jackson Jr., Donovan Mitchell and D’Angelo Russell.
When it comes to building and fostering relationships with players, Brown ranks at the head of the class. “Without question, Austin has the opportunity to be one of the greatest agents in the history of the basketball business,” said Howard Nuchow, co-head of CAA Sports.
“I’ve done some really cool things in my career so far, but making the ETHS Hall of Fame is one of the coolest,” Brown said. “Obviously, it’s an incredible honor and Evanston is an incredible place. It’s very near and dear to my heart still.
“That senior year was a special time for me, a moment I’ll never forget. Not a day goes by where I don’t think about the run we had to State.”
Brown played on one of the deepest teams in ETHS history, coached by Paul Pryma, and only led the squad in scoring once that season, a 15-point effort against Glenbrook South. Defense was his forte, although he also notched 15 points as he and Mike McKinney sparked one of the greatest comebacks in school history against Chicago Hubbard at the supersectional game played at the United Center in Chicago.
It wasn’t the last time Brown will step on an NBA court, but it was a night he’ll never forget. Evanston, after trailing by 14 points early in the second quarter, rallied past a talented Hubbard team for a 65-61 triumph and punched a ticket to Peoria.
“My task that year was to take the best wing player on the other team on defense, like a Jon Scheyer (Glenbrook North) or Colin Falls (Loyola Academy) and try to be a catalyst on defense,” he recalled. “That team that year was the epitome of what team means. Our 8th or 9th guy could go off for a 20-point game.
“We faced a lot of adversity that year (injuries to starters) but we all just wanted to win so badly. It was a tangible feeling, all of us working towrd one goal. The coaching staff (Pryma and assistants Tom Livatino and Todd Gierke) was one of the best I’ve ever seen.
“I remember sitting on the bench at the end of the first quarter of that game against Hubbard. We were down 22-7 and I looked up and thought, well at least I got to play where Michael Jordan played. I’d be lying if I said I thought we were going to come out of it with a W.
“But right then Coach Pryma smiled at us and said ‘we’re going to win this game.’ To hear him say that was really something. We started chipping away at Hubbard, Mike (McKinney) got it going, and I just fed off of that. It was one of my most proud moments, because of the way we stuck with it as a team.
“Coach Pryma knew we were going to win it before we did. That was a Paul Pryma Special.”
Brown played four years of college basketball at DePauw University, delivering a trip to the NCAA Division III Tournament when he hit a game-winning buzzer-beating basket from just beyond halfcourt against Centre in the conference championship game that year.
After graduating with a degree in economics, Brown followed in his father’s footsteps and worked as an investment banker. Then he changed career paths, decided to pursue contract law, and earned his degree at Washington and Lee University in Virginia.
“I got an internship at that point at a sports agency and that was my light bulb moment,” he explained. “It was a chance for me to stay tied to the sport I love. I knew that the perception people have of sports agents was that some of them talk out of both sides of their mouths. I asked myself, how can I change that narrative?
“To me, the answer was doing the best job I could and to be the kind of agent I’d want as a player if I was playing professional basketball. It’s about being a true friend to them, being a brother. They’re more than clients to me. To help them achieve their dreams, as one little piece of the puzzle, feels really special to me.”
NORTON HELLSTROM, FOOTBALL, BASKETBALL, BASEBALL
Just prior to the start of World War I, Evanston Township High School was only about one-fourth as big as it is now as far as enrollment goes.
So the competition to play on the school’s athletic teams wasn’t as intense, just due to the numbers. But that doesn’t take away from the accomplishments by Norton “Evy” Hellstrom, who just might be the best all-around athlete ever to wear an Evanston uniform.
Hellstrom is believed to be the only athlete in school history to earn a total of 12 varsity letters — in football, basketball and baseball. He was the leading scorer for the football team as an upperclassman, held the school record for points in a single game in basketball for decades, and batted cleanup for the varsity baseball team and played shortstop.s
There wasn’t anything that “Evy” couldn’t do. He earned spot on the varsity roster in all 3 sports as a freshman. He played on league championship teams in all 3 sports and was also a team captain in every sport at least one season.
As a forward on the basketball team in the 1913-14 season, Hellstrom poured in 20 points in a 37-22 late season win over New Trier. The Wildkits, with Hellstrom playing a bigger role in the second half of the season, won the prestigious Central States Tournament for the 4th year in a row, as Hellstrom’s 10 points helped them defeat Peoria 47-25 in the title game.
As a sophomore, Hellstrom dropped in a school record 28 points in a 75-14 blowout win over Harvey Thornton. That was in the days when there was a center jump after each basket and most entire teams didn’t score 28 points in a game. He added a season-best 22 points his junior year — again versus Thornton — while serving as team captain.
Hellstrom also was the team captain his senior year, when Evanston won the Chicago Suburban High School Conference for the 3rd time since 1913. He scored 4 of his 10 total points in the overtime period of a 27-20 victory over Freeport, enabling the Kits to repeat as champs at the Central States Tournament. Hellstrom also notched a team-high 10 points in a semifinal triumph (27-11) over St. John’s Military.
“Captain Evy Hellstrom might well be called the heart of the team,” said an anonymous writer for the school yearbook, The Evanstonian, following the conclusion of the basketball season in 1917. “His individual teamwork, and his ability to deliver when necessary, were instrumental in pulling the team through many tight games. He is one of the best all-around athletes who ever wore the colors of ETHS.”
After a brief fling playing quarterback, Hellstrom became a team mainstay at left halfback for the football squad coached by Hall of Famer John T. Riddell. He was also an accomplished drop-kicker, booting a 30-yard field goal as a sophomore to help deliver a 10-0 triumph over rival New Trier.
As a junior, he scored all of his team’s points in a 9-6 win over Crane Tech (his 25-yard field goal won the game) and Oak Park (10-0). In a 13-3 loss to Evanston Academy, he was credited with a 40-yard field goal.
Evanston’s bid for an unbeaten season during Hellstrom’s senior year ended in a 3-2 loss to Chicago Englewood, when Hellstrom completed a 30-yard pass in the last 3 minutes to keep a drive alive, only to misfire on a 30-yard field goal try.
During the league season, Hellstrom powered the Wildkits to the crown with a four touchdown effort against Lane. He scored the only TD in a 6-0 blanking of Oak Parkand accounted for 22 of his team’s points in a 28-0 pasting of New Trier. He was honored as a first team selection on the Cook County All-Star team.
Evanston won back-to-back conference titles in baseball in Hellstrom’s junior and senior seasons, too. He was a middle-of-the-order hitter and batted a robust .478 as a senior, when the Wildkits averaged 11 runs per game.
After serving one year in the armed forces, Hellstrom went on to letter in football and basketball at the University of Illinois. At Illinois, he and former Evanston great Chuck Carney started for the 1920-21 team that finished 11-7 overall, fourth in the Big Ten. Hellstrom captained the 1921-22 squad that compiled a 9-6 record overall.
JEFF MOORE, SWIMMING
When Jeff Moore entered the swimming and diving program at Evanston, there were fast freestylers everywhere he looked.
So Moore looked at the numbers and realized — along with members of the ETHS coaching staff — that he might be better off trying another stroke or two.
Focused on the butterfly and the individual medley, Moore grew into a state champion in the newest event on the Illinois High School Association menu, the 100-yard butterfly. His progress in that race matched the evolution of the event, as he mastered the stroke that began as a way for swimmers to go faster in the breaststroke.
The butterfly was officially adopted by the IHSA for the 1957-58 season, with the dolphin kick combining with overarm recovery to create a “new look” and a new event. Moore thrived with the change, earning 4th place in the State as a sophomore in the 150 individual medley, state runnerup in both the 100 fly and 150 IM as a junior, and state champion in the 100 fly (in 54.7 seconds) and runnerup in the 200 IM as a senior.
He and Doug Lennox (2005) are the only male Evanston swimmers to claim state championships in the butterfly to date.
Moore didn’t see himself as a pioneer. He just wanted to crack the starting lineup and be a part of the dynasty established by legendary coach Dobbie Burton.
“I started swimming at the Evanston Y when I was 9, and I always thought I’d swim at ETHS,” said Moore, who now resides in California. “When the fly came along, the coaches said they wanted me to try it. So I’d go over to Patten Gym at Northwestern and worked on the kick and my arms all by myself. At first it was pretty difficult, but we had a heckuva lot of freestylers on that team, and the fly turned out to be my best stroke.
“My sophomore year was the first year we had our own pool (at ETHS) and I remember beating a guy from New Trier in a dual meet. I remember the date — December 19th, 1957 — because a photographer from the Chicago Tribune took a picture of me in the small pool. I caught the guy on the third turn, and I still remember my time (1:01.9). That was one of the happiest moments of my life, and that race and winning the state championship are two of my most vivid memories.”
As a senior, Moore was part of arguably the best high school team in the country. Evanston ended rival New Trier’s 3-year stranglehold on the team title, outscoring the Trevians 86-69 at the state finals held in the Evanston pool.
“I won the fly, Tom Pringle won the IM and we really came out and dominated them,” Moore recalled. “That Class of 1960 was a very good class and we set a lot of national records that year.”
Winning a state title in his own pool was sweet for Moore, and even sweeter was the fact that he out-touched a nemesis from New Trier, Fred Schmidt, to rule the butterfly.
“I had qualified first (out of the preliminaries), but he was right there with me,” Moore said. “At the end I only won by a touch.
“On the third lap I got about half a body length lead on him, and I was able to hold him off. At the start of the race I had a very strange feeling. I felt detached and very nervous at the same time, not at all confident that I would win. Sitting on the blocks, I remember looking out at the pool and it was like it was the first time I had ever seen it. It was so placid and peaceful, it was like I was in a dream, like I was watching myself swimming.”
Moore earned a scholarship to swim at Burton’s alma mater, the University of Michigan, and earned All-American status as a junior with a third place finish in the NCAA finals of the 200 butterfly held at North Carolina State.
He also served as team captain for the Wolverines.
“I really swam better in high school. I plateaued there, and I really didn’t get better,” he said. “I didn’t improve, and the competition did. It was a high powered program and it seemed more like work when I got to college.
“I really enjoyed swimming at Evanston. Mr. Burton was like a giant to us, a real authoritarian figure. He was a tough guy, but we liked and revered him.”
TRANQUIL WILSON, TRACK
In her current role as an assistant girls track coach at Evanston, Tranquil Wilson is constantly reminding athletes to give it their best every time out because you never know what the future will bring.
Wilson missed her senior season — and a chance to be a state champion — with a serious illness, and learned that when opportunity knocks, you can’t wait to answer.
But despite missing her senior year while battling ovarian cancer, Wilson still built a Hall of Fame resume as a competitor at ETHS and made her mark in the girls program as a freshman, sophomore and junior.
She went on to earn a national championship in the mile relay while competing at the University of Nebraska, and since 1995 has been a member of the coaching staff for the Wildkits. Evanston has won 6 state team championships and earned 4 other top three finishes during her coaching tenure.
She made an immediate impact as a freshman, winning conference and sectional titles in the 200-meter dash on her way to a 6th place finish in that race at the Illinois High School Association state finals. She also qualified for State in three relays that year.
But the coach who worked most closely with Wilson — current head coach Fenny Gunter, then an assistant under Fred Spence — pointed her in a different direction and shifted her focus to the open 400 race for her sophomore season.
“I really don’t remember it as a choice, not with Fenny as a coach,” Wilson laughed. “I really viewed the 400 as a distance race. But when I worked with Fenny in the summer, he said I just wasn’t fast enough for the 200 and that I needed to convert to the 400. I didn’t want to, but I trusted him. It was difficult at first.
“I think what triggered the change was that he had seen me run the 400 in the District 65 meet at Dyche Stadium, and he remembered that. I ran a 63 (seconds) and won the race, and I think that’s what caught his attention. My training really didn’t change much. I still did a lot of speed work, but that training really prepared us well. I ran 6 quarters and a 100 in two days at the state meet and I was determined to do well.”
Besides earning a 3rd place finish in the open 400, Wilson also claimed a gold medal as the anchor of the 800 medley relay team that won in 1 minute, 44.8 seconds and included Amy Ellis, Janis Foster and Machelle Kennedy on the shorter legs. That time ranked as the fastest in the United States that year in a race that consisted of two 100s, a 200 and a 400 at the time.
“Winning a state championship was huge and it really set the tone, because I believe that was our first race,” Wilson said. “I knew the competition in the 400 and I knew who to go after (on her way to that 3rd place finish).”
Wilson returned to Charleston as a junior in the 400, and this time the only one to beat her was champion Carmelita Williams of East St. Louis Lincoln. “I knew it would be difficult to beat her, and in that final race she set the state record,” Wilson said. “Second was a good finish for me. I just had someone great in my event.”
But Williams graduated soon after that race, leaving the door open for a title run for Wilson. A state title seemed inevitable as long as Wilson put in the work.
She never got the opportunity.
“My goal was to win State as a senior. But the coaches noticed I wasn’t training (in the winter) the way I usually trained. I ran my last race in December, and then I got sick and was diagnosed with ovarian cancer,” she recalled.
“I had the (successful) surgery and then I had to go through chemotherapy, too. That was so hard. I planned on coming back and running, but it just didn’t work out. I’m just thankful that I was able to make it through, with a lot of prayer. I was able to attend some meets once I recovered, and I was in the stands at State watching Janis (Foster) win the 400. It was great watching how she excelled. I was happy for her — watching her gave me such joy — but I also thought wow, that could have been me!”
Even without competing as a senior, Wilson landed a full scholarship from Nebraska based on her past performances. Track scholarships for women were rare in the 1980s.
“My freshman year was difficult. I was starting all over again,” Wilson pointed out. “At Nebraska, they expected me to run like I did when I was a junior, but my times were not up to par. I was still recovering.
“During the summer they told me if I didn’t run at least a 54.2, I wouldn’t have my scholarship for the next year. So I trained hard, finished 3rd in the conference (in the 400) and ran a 53 split on that national championship relay team. I was able to maintain my scholarship.
“They probably should have redshirted me my freshman year, but I have no regrets about the way things turned out. They had their standards and I really loved it there.”
CHET RENNER, TENNIS COACH
Evanston wasn’t anywhere on the state map when it came to high school tennis. Then Chet Renner came to ETHS from Elgin in 1947 and the Wildkits became consistent point scorers at the Illinois High School Association state finals.
Renner overcame the lack of “country club” players by turning good — and not-so-good — athletes into top level tennis players with his focus squarely on the fundamentals of the game. Evanston enjoyed unprecedented success in the decade from 1947 to 1957, scoring a total of 2 state runnerup finishes, 4 third place finishes, 1 fourth place, 1 fifth place and 1 eighth place finish in his tenure and only finished out of the top 10 in Renner’s last year as head coach.
The list of elite players groomed by Renner included state finalists like Bob Blumenthal and Bruce Peters, 2nd in doubles in 1948; James Cobb and Phil Craig, 2nd in doubles in 1949; Al Kuhn, 3rd in singles in 1951 and state champion in singles in 1952; Jack Wingstrom and Keith Anderson, who in 1953 defeated teammates Pat Coyle and Jon Weiss in the state doubles finale; Dick Pauley and Dave Shepard, 2nd in doubles in 1954; and Alan Hunken and Dick Pauley, state doubles champions in 1955.
Renner’s only frustration as head coach was that the Wildkits couldn’t break through against a couple of state dynasties, Oak Park and Hinsdale Central, to win a team crown. Oak Park ruled the state tournament in 5 of the first 6 years Renner was at ETHS, and Hinsdale captured the title the last 2 years of his tenure.
Evanston’s state places as a team under Renner included a 2nd in 1948, a 3rd in 1949, a 5th in 1950, a 3rd in 1951, a 3rd in 1952, a 2nd in 1953, a 3rd in 1954, a 4th in 1955, 8th in 1956 and 9th in 1957.
Kuhn, who was named to the Hall of Fame in 2001, said that Renner “was just a terrific coach. Other schools like New Trier, Highland Park, Oak Park and Maine all had ready-made players from country clubs and tennis clubs. But Chet started from scratch.
“He would see a kid in gym class that had some coordination, and he would teach him from the ground up. All the players worked hard for him, because he gave so much of himself to them. He built his teams from the bottom up, and I have great respect for that. The players loved him for turning them on to a great sport.”
EMIL SCHULTZ, FOOTBALL, CROSS COUNTRY, TRACK COACH
Emil “Heinie” Schultz was a coach for all seasons, a man who led Wildkit programs to elite levels in three different sports during his tenure at ETHS. No other Evanston coach has won on such a consistent basis in three different sports and he led the Wildkits to Suburban League titles in all 3 sports.
Schultz was a former blocking back for Red Grange at the University of Illinois and served as head football coach at Evanston for six years, from 1936 to 1941. His overall record was 31-14-4, a winning percentage of .673. His 1940 football squad won the Suburban League championship after losing the 1939 title in heart-breaking fashion, a 7-0 loss to Oak Park-River Forest spoiling what was otherwise an undefeated season.
Evanston’s 8-1 mark that year featured 3 All-State players in halfback Bill Wheeler, tackle Odd Anderson, and halfback Gene Wasniewski. Trailing Oak Park late in the fourth quarter, the Kits saw their potential game-winning drive end at the 4-yard line when time ran out.
As head track coach for 20 years, Schultz built a dynasty that included 9 top 10 finishes at the Illinois High School Association state finals. The Kits placed 3rd in 1943, 4th in 1946, 3rd in 1947, 9th in 1949, 2nd in 1950, 8th in 1951, 5th in 1952, and 4th in 1953. The Wildkits just missed winning a team state title in 1950, edged out 19-17 by Wendell Phillips of Chicago, but under Schultz’s guidance Evanston produced individual state champions Bob Whitelaw (220-yard dash) in 1943, Tom Boswell (100, 220) in 1944, Bob Menary (long jump) in 1945, George Watson (high hurdles) in 1947, Neil King (pole vault) in 1947, Andrew Rodez (shot put) in 1948, Bob Henard (long jump) in 1949, Johnny Hunter (long jump) in 1950, and Doug Fuchs (discus) in 1950.
The Wildkits also claimed a state title in the 880-yard relay in 1952 behind Leo Frazier, Bob McKeiver, Dave Park and John Vance.
In cross country, Evanston ruled the state finals in 1953, outscoring runnerup Cumberland 111-119 for the team championship. Junior Louis Kujawinski, also a Hall of Famer, won the individual race in 9 minutes, 21.6 seconds and senior teammate John Hitt ran 2nd to provide the margin of victory for the Wildkits.
1975 SOCCER TEAM
No school has finished runnerup at the state soccer tournament more than Evanston since the Illinois High School Association started sponsoring the competition.
But it was an ETHS team that DIDN’T reach the title game that may have come closest to being the No. 1 team in the state.
An upset loss to Maine East — the eventual state runnerup — on a rain-drenched field in the sectional tournament ruined Evanston’s postseason bid during the 1975 season and left Coach Ken McGonagle’s team with a final record of 16-2.
How tough were the Wildkits, who only surrendered a total of 10 goals all season? Members of the Illinois High School Soccer Coaches Association voted Evanston the No. 1 team — AFTER the conclusion of the state tournament. They really had no problems justifying that ranking, considering that McGonagle’s squad owned wins over the teams ranked 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th in that poll.
Hinsdale Central defeated Maine East in the IHSA state final, then lost to Evanston the next spring 2-0 in a club tournament exhibition featuring the top under-18 club teams that determined the real balance of power that year in Illinois.
All-State selections Gus Eliopoulos (19 goals, 8 assists) and Nat Rosenberg (10 goals, school record 14 assists) paced the Wildkits, along with all-conference standouts Rich Jackson (defense) and Dale Atkinson (midfield). Goalie Alan Chalem moved up from the unbeaten JV team of the previous year to record 7 shutouts.
McGonagle had anticipated a strong showing in a preseason preview story published in the Evanston Review. “We don’t have any super players this year, which is something of an asset, because we make up for it with a strong team,” declared the coach. “We have no real weaknesses, except no depth at goalie, and we have team players — no one-man team.”
The Wildkits won their first 9 games, then dropped a taut 2-1 decision to New Trier East at Memorial Stadium in a game decided by penalty kicks. The two rivals eventually shared the Central Suburban League North division championship, but ETHS earned revenge in the postseason rematch.
A pair of goals by speedy wing Rafael Gardiner led to a 2-1 victory in double overtime. A steal by fullback Jonathan Higgins set up the game-winner, as Gardiner was in the right spot to knock in a rebound of the initial shot by Eliopoulos.
But that emotional triumph took a lot out of the winners, just as much as it took from the losers. In their next outing, played in the rain at New Trier, the Kits turned in a flat performance and lost 3-2 to Maine East, ending the season with a bitter defeat.
Injuries knocked both Chalem and midfielder Scott Hoffenberg out of the game in the second half, and sloppy play in sloppy conditions didn’t help the ETHS cause, either.
“We gave up a couple of cheap goals,” McGonagle said. “We had a flat performance, no doubt about it. The team was so emotionally exhausted after beating New Trier East that I don’t think they recovered.”
Higgins, who went on to play four years at Grinnell College and earned all-conference recognition there, agreed with his coach.
“That was really a frustrating game. There was an inch of rain on the field, we hit the post a couple of times and I think we hit the crossbar three times. It was one of those games where you have twice as many shots as the other team and you still lost,” Higgins said.
“It was a fluke game. Everything went wrong that could go wrong for us, and they scored the game-winning goal after our goalie went out of the game.”
Evanston built the foundation for success in the off-season, when a core group of players played on club teams in summer, winter and spring competition. Most of them also played for the United Soccer Association program that was formed in 1974, a team composed of players with a wide range of nationalities, religions, socio-economic levels and racial diversity. It was a tight-knit group on an off the field, according to Higgins.
“We were together a lot and we went to play in Sweden (and England) the summer before that season, and later the Swedish team came over here. The cultural exchanges with people who never met a Black, Jew, Greek, Turk, Haitian or Jamaican created an international cultural exchange and contributed to the global community through athletics in a way that was profound for these youth.”
1989 GIRLS SWIMMING AND DIVING
The only Evanston girls swimming and diving team ever to win an Illinois High School Association state trophy certainly didn’t lack motivation at the start of the 1989-90 school year.
A close call the previous year left the Wildkit girls hungry for a breakthrough season, and they accomplished just that with a 3rd place state finish as a team.
No ETHS girls team has surpassed that finish since then. A determined across the board effort by the squad wiped out bitter memories of a 4th place finish in 1988, when a disqualification in the prelims of the 400-yard freestyle relay cut into the Wildkits’ point potential and left them on the sidelines when it came to the trophy presentation. Only the top three finishing teams are awarded trophies.
So Evanston’s trophy case was bare until the Kits regrouped and turned in a historic effort the next year, led by standouts like Heidi Toft, Jennifer Chertow, Seiko Okano, Tonia Burns, Jenny Verhoog, Marni Weil, Anne Carlson, Jenny Cook, Debbie Rubin and Lauren Winger.
That State finish capped off a season in which the Wildkits finally turned the tables on long-time rival and Central Suburban League power New Trier. Coached by Tim Richardson, the Kits defeated the Trevians for the first time in school history in a dual meet, then outscored New Trier at the CSL conference meet and ended the Trevs’ stranglehold on the crown for the first time.
Richardson’s squad built momentum with that September dual triumph, by a 91-81 margin, and after capturing the CSL crown (with 9 firsts in 11 races) also scored the program’s first sectional championship.
“It really was a team effort that year. Nobody expected us to finish in the top 3,” recalled Richardson, whose team graduated Hall of Famer Michelle Russell the year before. “It was unfortunate what happened in ’88. We had a couple of girls who jumped into the pool (before the race was officially over, with another team still finishing in a faraway lane) because they were so excited. We knew we’d have third locked up if we qualified in the 400. The DQ wasn’t justified because it didn’t change what was happening over in Lane 7.
“We were right there in the hunt for a trophy. But I think that mishap was the driving force for us the next year.”
“It was an honor to be a part of that team,” said Chertow, who served as a team co-captain along with Okano. “Don’t get me wrong, we had talent, but we also worked so hard. I think it was a magical combination.
“I was probably the main reason for that DQ my junior year. I jumped in the pool and the whole team followed me. I thought I’d seen everyone clear out of the pool. I actually wrote a college essay based on the experience, to help me process what happened. It was very traumatic.
“But the next year the entire team had that hunger for a state trophy. There was no way they could find a way to deter us from winning one.”
Chertow did more than her part to add to the ETHS point total. After finishing 5th in the 50 freestyle as a junior at State, she moved up to 3rd as a senior, placed 5th in the open 100 freestyle, and teamed up with Burns, Okano and Toft to clinch a trophy with the runnerup performance in the final race of the day, the 400 freestyle relay.
Hall of Famer Toft added a 2nd in the 50 freestyle and the Wildkit foursome of Burns, Toft, Verhoog and Weil placed 4th in the 200 medley relay. That was just enough for ETHS to edge out Deerfield 83-80 for that third place trophy, behind only Oak Park (159) and Hinsdale Central (118).
Evanston’s surge that season began with the win over New Trier. A 1-2-3 sweep of the 50 freestyle by Chertow, Okano and Carlson produced the speed bump that the Trevs couldn’t get past in the 10-point Kit win.
“It was definitely a big deal for us to beat them in that dual,” Chertow remembered. “We looked at them as the enemy. It wasn’t a friendly rivalry. But when you’re in the pool and in the competition, you drop that extra stuff and you just focus on getting to the wall first. It was a very gratifying win, after being defeated by the same team over and over again.”
The queen of CSL swimming was dead, and a month later a new queen was officially crowned when the Kits outscored New Trier 380-365 and became the first team other than the Trevs to rule since the sport was added to the league in 1976. Okano was a double winner in both the 200 and 500 freestyle races and was also a member of the first place medley relay team.
Richardson was named Illinois High School Coach of the Year and CSL Coach of the Year to climax that magical season. “Coach Richardson had a very strategic and precise method of training us,” explained Chertow. “He always trained us to our limit, but never to the point of breaking, lest our spirits be defeated.
“He motivated us to dream the undreamable (a trophy finish) and make it happen through diligence, hard work and working together for the win.”