John Mason coached at many stops along the way.
This week, he landed his final coaching assignment in Heaven.
Sadly, we lost Coach this week. He put on a full-court press on pancreatic cancer, but after a 22-month battle, he called his final timeout.
He was 81.
To know Coach was to love him. If you met him or played for him, you never forgot him.
The tributes for Coach on Facebook this week are endless.
I enjoyed our many calls and texts over the years just talking sports. We recently met for lunch and I’m so glad we did.
Coach didn’t just coach basketball. He coached kids.
He taught them how to play as a team, how to win and more importantly, how to be good kids.
And he formed lasting bonds and lifetime friendships with the kids he coached. One of those kids is Thomas Stamberger, a 2019 LaMoille grad, who played for Coach’s first F/S team there.
More than anything, Stamberger said Coach was just a lot of fun to be around as a coach and friend and enjoyed his hands-on approach to coaching.
“He always kept basketball interesting and fun especially when he would get out on the court and show us how a drill is supposed to be done,” he said. “He definitely loved basketball, but he seemed to love the relationships he made along the way with all his former students and athletes even more. He had friends from all his teaching and coaching stops from his long career and he continued that with me and my teammates after we graduated.
“It was really cool to see that he always liked to hear how we were doing in the offseason and then after high school whether it be other sports, school, work or just about anything. There was never a dull moment of conversation or practice with Coach and he will be deeply missed.”
Coach was a big, big fan of the Chicago Cubs (he had a dog named Clark Addison), overjoyed to witness their World Series win in 2016, as well as the Fighting Illini. He was just a sports fan overall, attending a sports event of his beloved Morrison High School Mustangs every year he was alive.
I first met Coach when he took over as girls basketball coach at Ohio High School in the summer of 2003. While he may have looked like their grandpa, the Ohio girls quickly found out that he really knew the game and still could play the game.
The story goes that one of the girls told her own grandfather that the new coach “is really old, but he can sure play.”
The Ohio girls thrived under Coach’s guidance right from the first day. They were 12-9 in his first season in 2003-04, defeating a good Erie team that was leading the Three Rivers Conference in January. They also beat L-P at the Dixon Tournament the next year, an event that had many teams, including L-P, with more than 15 times the size of tiny Ohio with 55 students.
Alecia (Smith) Davis, one of the many Ohio girls Coach kept in contact with over the years, said he was such a great coach and friend that it’s hard to put it in words how grateful she is for all the memories she has with him.
Greg Burks became friends with Mason when both were coaching at Hinckley, Greg leading the girls to two straight state championships in 2009 and 2010 and Coach was with the F/S boys. Burks said some of his best memories were scouting trips they took together.
“During his time coaching the lower levels at H-BR, he was in his late 60s/early 70s. Those boys really responded to his coaching, despite the age difference. The kids really enjoyed playing on his team and many had a good experience with basketball because of him,” Burks said.
“He thought every team he ever was a part of and every player he had was something special.”
Mason was in Burks’ wedding three years ago and claimed to be the oldest groomsman ever, Burks said.
Along the way of a 56-year career, his coaching stops took him to Hinckley, Dwight, Sandwich, Malta, Ohio, LaMoille, Aurora Central Catholic and Genoa-Kingston, willing to coach at any level. He last coached the JV girls at North Boone in 2019-20
He told me in a March 2021 interview, “As long as I have my own team, I don’t care if it’s head seventh grade or head freshmen or head varsity. To me, I’ve always enjoyed it, and it’s your team and they’re playing games and stuff, it’s just such fun at any age.”
Coach celebrated his 70th birthday by being inducted into the Illinois High School Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
I always say that a coach’s biggest impact is not how many games they’ve won, but rather their impact on their kids lives.
Coach’s impact on his kids will last the rest of their lives.
I’m thankful for the impact he had on my life.
Kevin Hieronymus has been the BCR Sports Editor since 1986. Contact him at email@example.com