Alphabetical order provides a wonderful service when everyone is outstanding in his or her own right.
But at Saturday night’s induction ceremony for the first Joliet Catholic Academy Hall of Champions class, held in the Student Activity Center, it served a higher purpose.
Bill Gullickson, Allie Quigley, Jim Stefanich and Tom Thayer were among the five who forever will be known as members of the first Hall of Champions class. In any other year, any of them would have been worthy of being the headliner.
However, there was someone else – someone very special – also honored on this night: legendary coach Gordie Gillespie, who was the very first Hall of Champions inductee, as introduced by Dan Sharp, JCA’s athletic director and football coach and the master of ceremonies for the event.
Gillespie, who was so successful in multiple sports at Lewis, St. Francis and Ripon, built the JCA football program into a power, winning four straight state titles and five in all. Because of health issues, he has not been out and about in the community recently the way he always was. But he was there Saturday night, in his wheelchair guided by his wife, Joan.
I visited with Joan, which always is a treat. However, Gordie’s visitors were so numerous, one after another, that I did not visit with him then.
“No matter, I’ll do it after dinner,” I thought. Except when I looked to the Gillespie family table afterward, he had left. That’s my only regret from what was a memorable occasion.
Gordie, if you are reading this, I wish you the best. I know it had to be a lift for your spirits to come out and see so many old friends. Imagine what it did for all of them.
The format for the program was a video presentation, where friends, coaches, teammates, etc. discussed each inductee. We heard about Gillespie from Sharp, Pat Sullivan, Dave Laketa and Gordon Gillespie Jr. (better known as Goose).
Sullivan, always armed with the right words, said, “When you’re with Gordie, you know you’re in the presence of greatness. All those Hall of Fames he is in are nothing compared to the relationships he had with his athletes.”
When that video was complete, Sharp walked to Gillespie’s table and handed him the microphone.
“It’s my turn,” Gillespie said. “I couldn’t have coached a better group of young people than I did here. I coached at the greatest place there is to coach.”
Up next was Gullickson, a 1977 Joliet Catholic graduate who sported a 162-135 record and 3.93 ERA in 14 major league seasons after being the No. 2 pick in the country out of high school behind Harold Baines.
Rick Colbert, Gullickson’s lifelong friend and former catcher, was on the video. So was his Hilltoppers baseball coach, Jack Schimanski, and his brother Tom Gullickson, himself a former all-state offensive lineman who went on to play at Notre Dame.
Tom told a story about how he used to be the pitcher and Bill the catcher when they played in the sandlot. Because of the brick wall behind the catcher, Bill got plunked in the back of the head on the rebound about five times one day, so he asked to switch. From then on, he was the pitcher.
“A lot of kids coming out of Joliet still say the standard was set by Bill,” Colbert said. “They’ve tried, but they couldn’t hit that standard.”
As for Allie Quigley (‘04), Sharp said, “Usually you say it’s unfortunate when someone can’t be with you. With Allie, it’s fortunate.”
That’s because Quigley and her Chicago Sky teammates were playing Game 1 of the WNBA Eastern Conference finals that night at Indiana.
Allie’s sister, Sam, the women’s basketball coach at St. Francis, accepted on her behalf. Sam and the rest of the family – brothers Ryan and Jake, mom Chris and stepdad Don Strle – plus JCA volleyball coach Christine Scheibe, spoke on the video, along with DePaul women’s coach Doug Bruno. Allie and Sam both starred for Bruno.
Allie was on video as well, thanking everyone in her family and at JCA and DePaul who helped make her what she is.
“Coach Bruno talked about an impact player also being an impact person. That’s Allie,” Sam Quigley said.
“Today, Allie is my favorite child,” mom Chris said. “Any other day, they’re all equal.”
Sheri Voss, daughter of the late Don Ladas of WJOL Radio fame, spoke about Stefanich (‘59), the PBA Hall of Famer and longtime senior golf tour member.
“My dad talked about him all the time,” Voss said. “His perfect game [on national TV] meant a lot more than a perfect game does now.”
“This is very, very humbling,” Stefanich said.
Thayer’s video presenters included his Bears radio broadcast partner Jeff Joniak, George McCaskey from the Bears’ first family, former Bear teammate Jay Hilgenberg, Tom’s brother, Rick, and his mom, Ann.
Thayer (‘79) was an all-state offensive lineman and played at Notre Dame and in the USFL and NFL. He won a couple state titles, played for national championship with Notre Dame and won a Super Bowl in ‘86 with the Bears. He played 47 consecutive weeks of football one year, going from the USFL season right into NFL training camp.
“I still talk about Joliet and Joliet Catholic on broadcasts,” Thayer said. He looked at Gillespie and added, “Gordie, we’re all here for you.”
Dick Goss can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org