Seneca boys basketball’s 1,500 wins is all about generations of smiles

Fighting Irish milestone moment shared with the players to earned it

SENECA – For Seneca boys basketball coach Russ Witte, the brief celebration prior to last Friday’s Tri-County Conference home game with Lowpoint-Washburn was not as much about the milestone of 1,500 victories achieved earlier this season by his program.

It was more about the look on the faces of those who made it happen.

“Whether they were a part of one win or 100 wins, that’s something they’re proud to say they were a part of, a part of Seneca basketball.”

—  Seneca boys basketball coach Russ Witte

There were dozens of current and former Fighting Irish basketball players on hand, every one of them smiling bright that night when Steve Allen, the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association board member and chair of its Coach of the Year panel, presented Witte with a plaque commemorating the school’s landmark win total.

“It was great to see the people back, see them walk back on the court and see the smiles on their faces as they remembered their time here,” said Witte, who has directed the program to 197 of those wins to date in his 12-plus seasons there.

“This [honor] is a product of them, of their doing, and Doug Evans [IBCA Hall of Fame coach of 492 of those wins and the state championship team of 2006] would stand here and say the exact same thing … and it was great to see them get their due. Whether they were a part of one win or 100 wins, that’s something they’re proud to say they were a part of, a part of Seneca basketball.”

The first Fighting Irish boys basketball victory came over 100 years ago, during the 1920-21 season, when the club went 3-7. Since then, the Seneca program has also claimed countless conference and tournament championships, 19 district or regional titles and made three state appearances, placing second in 1991 led by IBCA Hall of Famer Mark Aubry, third in 2005 and first in ‘06, behind Garrett Callahan, Griffan Callahan, Robert Rexroade and Seth Evans.

“Growing up, going to Seneca Grade School and watching all the games, I always appreciated the players, and being one of them is something that I couldn’t wait to do, to be a part of a Seneca basketball team,” said Ross McCormick, a solid-scoring point guard and highly successful track and cross country runner at Seneca prior to his graduation in 2016.

“The teams I saw, the ones who got third, then went 35-0 and won the championship, seeing that happen down in Peoria, that’s what I think of when I think of the Seneca program. … It was great seeing some of those guys I watched and some that I played with show up to celebrate.”

Because the program’s record for the 1921-22 season is incomplete, the exact date of the 1,500th victory hasn’t been determined, though the total was within one or two of 1,500 at the beginning of this season without that year included.

The IHSA boys basketball records section lists 25 schools with at least 1,500 wins, but it’s likely that roster is not completely up to date. For example, Ottawa High School reached 1,500 wins in Dec. 30, 2016, but its 1,593 all-time victories is currently not on that roll call.

The overall wins leader in Illinois is Centralia with 2,296 through the 2020-21 season. That figure has it at or very near the top of the national list as well.

The Irish are currently 10-4 heading into their Tuesday night matchup with Coal City.

“It was part of our pregame talk in the locker room [last Friday], when you play a game, you’re not playing just for you,” Witte said. “You’re playing for your big brother, your cousins, your friends and all those alumni that came before you and set the standard to want to live up to. I explained to my son, Damon, that’s tradition and what it means.

“Seneca is a basketball school, and it always has been, and the tradition that was read tonight was mind-blowing.

“To be a small part of something like that is truly an honor.”