By Mark Jurgena
T-T Sports Contributor
Jerry McChristian knows Collinsville sports, especially basketball.
Of course, he’s been involved with the program in some capacity for 60-plus seasons.
That commitment to the Kahok basketball cause landed him a spot in the Illinois Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame.
McChristian and his 2023 classmates were inducted during a ceremony at the CEFCU Arena on the campus of Illinois State University in Normal.
He began following the Kahoks early on, especially the 1957 Kahoks and the legendary Terry Bethel. McChristian played basketball his freshman year for Vergil Fletcher and from there settled into various roles with the Collinsville basketball program.
“I played as a freshman then tried out as a sophomore,” McChristian said. “I wasn’t tall enough, I wasn’t quick enough.”
So he decided to take other roles associated with Kahok hoops.
Eventually McChristian kept the clock for boys underclass and girls varsity games. He kept the scorebook for underclass boys games then when Gus Soehlke retired he moved to keeping the varsity book for almost 20 years.
He worked the Holiday Classic book for 24 years.
Now 77 years of age, McChristian can discuss the greatness of Collinsville basketball with ease.
McChristian’s memorable moments
When asked about his favorite memories of Kahok basketball he quickly came up with four teams.
First on the list was the 1956-57 Kahoks and All-American Terry Bethel. Those Kahoks went 34-1 falling 45-42 in the state title game to Herrin.
CHS won the Centralia Holiday Tournament that season including a 65-64 second round win over Herrin. They also won the Collinsville Invitational one week later.
In the postseason they dismantled the field at the Granite City Regional and the Vandalia Sectional. They took a 21-point win over Charleston at the Salem Super-Sectional before beating Galesburg and Ottawa in Champaign to reach the title game.
Bethel went on to play at Vanderbilt and Illinois.
Next on his list was the undefeated 1961 State and National Championship club.
Those Kahoks won their own tourney and the East St. Louis Holiday tourney in the regular season. They won the Granite City Regional and the Wood River Sectional before playing the classic Super-Sectional game in Salem against Centralia.
From there they blasted Rockford (East), Peoria (Manual) and Harvey (Thornton) to win the state title. They outscored those three state opponents by 97 points! In the title game, they beat Thornton 87-50.
“Bogie Redmon was always the person who was counted on but he broke his leg and was out for six weeks,” said McChristian who was a freshman that season. “That team continued to win and did a helluva job. Fred Riddle, Bob Basola, Bob Meadows and Bob Simpson. Fred Riddle and those guys just did a great job.”
Redmon went on to play basketball at Illinois and also won the Big Ten discus title in track and field his senior year. Riddle went to Iowa and played basketball and football in Iowa City. For a time he held the single-game passing record for the Hawkeyes.
McChristian spoke highly of the 1963-64 team that finished 28-1 after losing 55-50 to Centralia in the Salem Super-Sectional. That Centralia team had Dick Garrett who helped SIU to the NIT crown and played five years in the NBA with the Los Angeles Lakers. The Orphans also featured Cliff Berger who played for Kentucky.
“(Collinsville) had Jack Darlington, Rodger Bohnenstiehl, Jerry Soehlke, Dave Russell,” he said. “It was a helluva team, Centralia was just better than us that night.”
Bohnenstiehl played at Kansas then went to the NBA with the New York Knicks and the ABA with the Pittsburgh Pipers. Darlington played at Nicholls State.
Finally, the 1964-65 team made his list. They went 30-2 and beat Quincy 55-52 in the state title game and went on a 22-game winning streak to end their season.
That team had Darlington, Dennis Pace, Harry Parker, Steve Gauen, and Don Birger.
Pace played at Illinois while Parker pitched for six seasons in the Major Leagues with the Cardinals, the New York Mets and Cleveland.
In McChristian’s eyes, he listed several players as the top in Kahok history.
Among those he chose were Bethel, Riddle, Simpson, Tom Parker (who played at Kentucky and was the SEC Player of the Year in 1972), Kevin Stallings (who played at Purdue and was a Division I head coach at Purdue, Vanderbilt and Pittsburgh), Rick George (played at Illinois) and Steve Ray (who played for Tennessee).
However he referenced Charlie Kraak, a former Kahok who was featured in an article in The Troy Times-Tribune back in 2020, as a legendary player.
“That’s what Vergil told me, that Kraak was one of his best,” said McChristian.
Kraak and his Indiana Hoosier teammates beat Kansas for the National Championship in 1953.
In addition to playing for Fletcher as a freshman basketball player, McChristian also played for him on the football field.
“You kept your mouth shut and you did what he told you to do and parents weren’t involved,” he said. “He was that way in basketball and football. He was a good man. After you get away from him you appreciate him more later.
“I played football for him, it was really interesting. He was a good man.”
McChristian was able to give further insight into the greatness of the legendary Collinsville mentor.
“He could find a player walking around in P.E. class and get him to try out,” he said.
“Rodger Bohnenstiehl in junior high got cut. He made it as a freshman and as a sophomore he kept going. He became an All-Stater and All-American. Vergil made him a player down in that low post position. He showed him how to pivot, turn around and make that shot. They would work another 20-30 minutes after practice was over.”
While he may not have contributed a single varsity minute on the floor to Kahok basketball he is certainly one of the legendary figures associated with the Kahoks.
His 60-plus years of helping in any way he could shows the strength of the supporters of the tradition rich Collinsville basketball Kahoks. They are an imposing legion dressed in purple, the ancient color of royalty.