John Schultz, one of winningest coaches in Tilden basketball history, dead at 87

“He was without a doubt one of the best coaches ever in Chicago,” said former Tilden player Tim Hutchison.

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Longtime Tilden basketball coach John Schultz, a Hall of Fame coach who won more than 320 games during his two decades at the South Side high school, died Wednesday. He was 87.

Mr. Schultz was surrounded by family at his home when he succumbed to kidney failure one day after entering hospice, his son, Patrick Schultz, said.

Inducted into the Chicago Public League Hall of Fame and Illinois Basketball Coaches Association (IBCA) Hall of Fame, Mr. Schultz is one of the winningest boys basketball coaches in Tilden history. He won five conference titles and led the Blue Devils to 15 winning seasons over his two stints spanning 26 years at the Canaryville school.

“He was without a doubt one of the best coaches ever in Chicago,” said former Tilden player Tim Hutchison.

Raymond Adams, another former Tilden star, agreed with Hutchison, saying: “Of all great coaches they got Chicago, I would put him up there... Schultz should be at the top tier for coaches of that period of time.”

Mr. Schultz, a founding member of the IBCA, is credited with putting Tilden basketball back on the map. After finishing 7-14 in his first season (1966-67), he coached them to a Public League city title in the second-tier blue division in 1970.

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Arguably his best team took the court the following season. Led by Adams, Tilden went 21-4 en route to the 1971 Public League championship game, where they ultimately lost to Harlan.

After taking a three-year break from Tilden to coach Northeastern Illinois University, Mr. Schultz returned before the 1982-83 season. He had several successful teams in the 80s, including the 1984-85 season when the Blue Devils pulled off one of the biggest upsets in Illinois high school basketball history, beating No. 1 King in the first round of the city playoffs.

Despite Mr. Schultz’ accomplishments, Tilden was often overshadowed by other basketball powerhouses in the city, including Hirsch, Morgan Park and Phillips in the 70s and then Simeon and King in the 80s. But former Sun-Times high school editor Taylor Bell said Mr. Schultz never minded being overlooked.

“He just thrived on the competition, the opportunity for his kids to play these other good programs,” Bell recalled. “He enjoyed the opportunity to compete against them and ... he was very successful even though he never won a state title, never won a [red division] city title.”

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Mr. Schultz was a father figure to some of his players, including Hutchinson, who graduated from Tilden in 1969.

“He was huge in my life,” said Hutchinson, whose father died when he was young. “When I went to high school, I was like, ‘Do I really want to be doing this?’ And he got hold of me and grabbed me by the ear and said, ‘Quit feeling sorry for yourself, you got to go to class, want to be a basketball player [and so on.]’ And that’s just the kind of person he was.”

Tough love was Mr. Schultz’ specialty. Adams remembers Mr. Schultz would give a pair of boxing gloves to any of his players who were acting “too tough” at practice.

Mr. Schultz was also very caring and always trying to help people — often driving players to and from practices and games or taking them on college visits. He remained invested in his players’ lives even well after they graduated high school.

Though coaching basketball was Mr. Schultz’ passion, family always came first. When the coaches would go out for beers after the games, Mr. Schultz always invited his wife, Barbara Schultz, whom he met as a student at Chicago Teachers College, now known as Chicago State University.

“He was cute,” Barbara recalled, with a laugh. “He was tall and blonde and blue-eyed and I kind of think that was maybe my idea of an ideal guy. But he was... you know, a smart a—.”

Mr. Schultz, a devoted Catholic, started to walk Barbara to the bus stop after classes before baseball practice.

“He would walk me to the bus and then he’d say, ‘Oh let this bus go.’ And then we talk and then we’d let another bus go, and I’d say, ‘I’m going to be late for work, I have to go,’” Barbara said. “And then he asked me out on a date.”

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John Schultz poses with his wife at the Westin Grand Hotel in Berlin in June 2019 while on a trip tracing Mr. Schultz’ German roots.

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When Mr. Schultz was drafted to the U.S. Army for the Korean War, the two penned letters to one another for 18 months while he was stationed in Germany. They got married in 1956 and had eight children.

“He’s a great father, and I only hope to be as good a father as he was,” Patrick said. “... The man is my hero.”

Mr. Schultz left Tilden in 1992 to teach and coach girls basketball at Lincoln Park High School. He retired in 1996.

Mr. Schultz and Barbara traveled the world over the last two decades, tracing their family roots throughout Europe and even stopping at his Army base in Germany.

Mr. Schultz was preceded in death by his daughter, Elizabeth Schultz. He is survived by his wife, Barbara (nee Gornick); in addition to his children, John (Nancy) Schultz, Timothy (Pamela) Schultz, Katherine (Dick Messino) Schultz, Thomas Schultz, Mary Schultz, Terrence (Jennifer) Schultz and Patrick (Lisa) Schultz, along with numerous grandchildren and great grandchildren.

Visitation will be held from 3 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at Vandenberg Funeral Home in Mokena. A memorial mass is scheduled for Thursday at 10 a.m. at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Mokena.

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