Henricksen: Illinois prep hoops visionary Chuck Rolinski remembered

SHARE Henricksen: Illinois prep hoops visionary Chuck Rolinski remembered

With so many other interests now encompassing us all, from social media to the onslaught of sports on television and other forms of entertainment, the number of true, passionate high school basketball diehards and junkies has dwindled. So it’s sad when you lose one.

Illinois prep basketball recently lost a great one.

In a state where high school basketball is still special, the passing of Chuck Rolinski in late September means there is one less Illinois prep hoops enthusiast –– and certainly one of the biggest.

Oh, Rolinski was a stellar basketball coach, compiling a 649-262 record as head coach at Toluca, where he coached for 34 years. However, what will be missed the most is all that he did for high school basketball in this state and his passion for it.

While he’s been recognized for his accomplishments –– he’s an IBCA Hall of Famer, was voted one of the “100 Legends of March Madness” in 2007 and has a gymnasium named after him in Toluca –– what he’s most known for statewide is what he did outside the gym.

He has been billed as “The father of two-class basketball” in Illinois, doing anything and everything he could in the early 1970s to expand from one class to two. It was a crusade for Rolinski, who simply wanted to even the playing field somewhat for small schools when March rolled around.

“I wanted to give small schools a chance, some equality, an identity of their own,” said Rolinski in Taylor Bell’s book, “Sweet Charlie, Dike, Cazzie, and Bobby Joe.”

He’s also the co-founder, along with coaching legend Sherrill Hanks of Quincy, and longtime executive director of the Illinois High School Basketball Coaches Association. He built the IBCA from the ground up and was actively engaged with the organization for decades.

My first memory of Chuck Rolinski was when I met him as a senior in high school while playing in the IBCA All-Star Game in Peoria.

During that time, the IBCA All-Star Game, which Rolinski organized, was a three-day weekend event, so we as players were able to get to know the coaches and organizers a little on a personal level.

I still remember thinking and asking as an 18-year-old kid, “Who is that really nice guy?” He had just retired from coaching but was front and center even then, nearly 25 years ago, promoting, encouraging, helping and making a connection with the players, coaches and fans.

As an avid high school basketball fan later in life, and while working with the IBCA here and there on different things and regular to trips to Champaign and Peoria over the years for the State Finals, I had the pleasure of dealing and working with Rolinski on occasion. He continued to leave that same genuine impression of someone who simply cared –– about people and high school basketball in this state.

“In the final review, many people work hard but not many can say that they changed the game,” said IHSA executive director Marty Hickman in a statement following the passing of Rolinski. “Chuck changed the game, not just for the basketball players and basketball towns in Illinois, but also for small schools in a variety of other sports and activities as well. There were few people who were as passionate about Illinois high school basketball as Chuck Rolinski.”

Rolinski’s influence was felt. He made such a significant impact on the sport I love, cover and follow, while also leaving a legacy that will last forever.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport

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