Niles West recognizes top teams and players in program history

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SKOKIE — Niles West paid tribute to its sports history by honoring members of the 1979 and 1981 girls basketball teams and former standout girls basketball players during a special ceremony. The 1979 team won a state championship and the 1981 squad reached the Final Four.

In between the sophomore and varsity girls basketball games against Schaumburg on Saturday, members of the two teams were welcomed back to the school by a gymnasium packed with supporters who cheered loudly as they entered the gym.

The event, “A Celebration of 40 Years of Niles West Girls Basketball,” continued with a special recognition of former coach Gene Earl, who led the program from 1978-1990.

The top 25 Niles West girls basketball players of all time also were honored.

Judy Banathy and Caryn Kaufman, 1982 Niles West graduates who both made the list of top players, said the day felt a lot like a high school reunion.

“It’s been so long since we’ve all been together, so to have all your best friends in one place is great,” Banathy said.

Since high school, a number of former Niles West players have stayed in touch by using an email chain to announce big life moments like weddings, births and career changes.

“It’s been 30 years but the bonds we have are still strong,” Banathy said.

The event had a good showing of players with 11 out of 13 women from the 1979 team in attendance, and 10 out of 13 players from the 1981 team, said Rebecca Tuecke, a physical welfare teacher at Niles West who organized the celebration.

Judy Becker and Karen Wikstrom were members of the 1979 team. They said it was a great day to reminisce about their high school years and catch up with what’s been happening in each other’s lives in the three decades since graduation.

“We were all such good friends, so to be able to see everyone in one place today is really great,” Becker said.

Charmaine DeFrancesco (1975), Nancy Hohs (1977), Shirley Cohen (1978), Diana Hintz (1978), Connie Erickson (1979), Peggy Japely (1979), Barb Atsaves (1980), Tina Conti (1980), Holly Andersen (1981), Cindy Michals (1981), Judy Banathy (1982), Caryn Kaufman (1982), Becky Schnell (1982), Nancy Zoros (1984), Kim Kassel (1987), Linda Steiner (1988), Heather Donlon (1989), Debbie Pozdol (1989), Heather McKenna (1992), Dominika Wawzyniak (1998), Heather Hohs (2003), Hailee Sullivan (2005), Kelly Kleppin (2010), Jewell Loyd (2012) and Molly Kleppin (2013).

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