Future stars and state champions: Dundee-Crown’s Charger Classic usually offers best of the best

Joe Komaromy fondly remembers the first championship of the Dundee-Crown Charger Classic, back in December of 1983, for a couple of reasons.

Komaromy, the former D-C girls basketball coach, took his team, in the first year that Dundee and Crown had merged, to the title game against powerful York.

But Komaromy also recalls that night for another reason.

“We had a break in the afternoon – everybody didn’t play four games back then,” Komaromy said. “The roof [at Crown’s gym] started leaking. [Former athletic director] Doug [Duval] and some coaches got scaffolding out, rolled it in, and Doug was at the top, stuffing towels in the roof because we wanted to have the game.”

Eventually, the weather cooled, the rain stopped, and the Duchesses, the eventual Class AA state champs, beat the Chargers.

Despite the near weather disaster, the tournament was off and running. The Charger Classic quickly became arguably the best girls holiday tournament in the state.

York and Regina Dominican, which were at the first D-C tournament, both finished in the Class AA Elite Eight. It was common for D-C to have more teams than that make the state finals. In some years, the Classic provided a preview of the state championship game.

Komaromy took over as Crown girls coach in the 1982-83 school year, the year before the merger with Dundee. Another noted girls tournament had shut down, and former York coach Val Cothern suggested D-C start a tournament the next year.

Komaromy, Duval and D-C principal Robert “Buck” Sayre agreed they should do it. The quality teams drew more quality teams.

Komaromy and the rest listened to suggestions about how they could make it the best tournament possible.

D-C seeded the teams, not something every tournament did back then, but an act which coaches greatly appreciated. It did little things like changing names and numbers on the scoreboard for each game, running one of the best hospitality rooms for coaches, officials, tournament workers and media.

“We had all these basketball junkies saying, ‘This is how you should do it,’ " Komaromy said. “We took the extra steps to make it a class tournament.”

Soon, everyone took notice.

Powerhouses such as Maine West, Mother McAuley, Naperville Central, Buffalo Grove, Stevenson, Fenwick, New Trier and others made D-C their holiday stop. Fenwick and Maine West each have won the Classic nine times.

One year, New Trier’s bus broke down, and Komaromy and assistant coach Tom Smith took a District 300 bus to bring the team the rest of the way for the championship game.

Another year, Lockport coach Dick Dykstrup and his team had to travel through a snowstorm for the title game, which started after 9 p.m. But the game was finished, and Lockport won.

In 2018, Maine West won its third consecutive Charger Classic championship, then went on to win the Class 4A state title. Hononegah, which also has played at D-C, took third in 4A. Maine West came back and won its fourth straight title last year.

“It’s the best-run tournament around,” Maine West coach Kim deMarigny said. “The best hospitality room, best leadership, first class all the way. The games are tremendous, as such high-quality teams enter this tournament every year.”

Bob Whitehouse, who worked as D-C principal for 12 years, considers the compliments Komaromy and the Classic received every year as one of his best memories.

The 38th Charger Classic will not be played because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but Komaromy, several coaches and other D-C officials were asked about some of the top moments through the years.

Historic dunk: Naperville Central sophomore Candace Parker, who was 6-foot-3, dunked against Hononegah in the 2001 Classic, which is believed to be the first time an Illinois high school girl threw down in a game.

Parker, who missed part of her senior season with an ACL injury, finished with 2,758 career points, 17th on the IHSA all-time list. She also became the first woman to dunk in an NCAA Tournament game in 2006 against Army.

Parker’s Tennessee teams won two NCAA championships, and she now plays for the WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks.

Upcoming star: In some of the Classic’s early years, another future star played for one of the top teams. Actress Jenny McCarthy and her sister, Joanne, played for some talented Mother McAuley teams.

Komaromy recalls that one of the Classic championship games when Maine West beat Mother McAuley was standing room only.

McCarthy went on to become a TV and movie star, was selected Playboy Magazine’s Playmate of the Year and is now married to Donny Wahlberg.

Joanne McCarthy still leads Illinois-Chicago women’s basketball in career scoring (1,805), 3-point field goals (238) and free throws made (463) and is second in free-throw percentage (.814) and third in assists (430).

State title previews: One only needs to look at the 2002 and 2003 Classics to see how loaded the tournament is. In 2002, Naperville Central beat Fenwick in the championship game, then later beat the Friars again for the 2003 Class AA state title.

“We needed to move portable bleachers into the new gym because 2,600 seats weren’t enough for Naperville Central vs. Fenwick,” Whitehouse said.

In 2003, coach Andy Nussbaum’s Redhawks beat New Trier in the Classic, and later defeated the Trevians for the 2004 Class AA state championship.

Also, Regina Dominican took third in the 2003 Class AA State Tournament and Fenwick took third in 2004, giving the Classic the top three Class AA teams in back-to-back years.

Sister act: Stevenson’s teams of the 1990s were a highlight for fans at the Classic in the mid 1990s with Tamika and Tauja Catchings leading the way.

The Patriots won the Classic in 1994 and 1995 and also won Class AA state titles both those years. Tamika won Illinois’ Miss Basketball in 1995, Tauja won it in 1996.

Tauja starred at Illinois, Tamika at Tennessee. Tauja had a brief WNBA career, then played professionally overseas. Tamika was voted one of the top 15 WNBA players of all-time by fans.

Class act: One of Whitehouse’s most memorable Classic moments was a somber one when Buffalo Grove met Stevenson in the 1994 title game.

Stevenson coach Frank Mattucci’s father died in the gym that night during the game.

“I remember [Buffalo Grove coach] Tom Dineen’s demonstration of class and respect when he suggested we end the game,” Whitehouse said. “Buffalo Grove was losing at the time.”

The Patriots led, 43-29, and the game was stopped at that point.

Tournament expert: Maine West statistician Mary Dankowski has seen a lot of Classic games in her 35 years keeping the Warriors’ scorebook.

“You would get the feeling that whichever teams would make the semifinals or finals would make their way downstate,” Dankowski said. “Watching coaches like [Fenwick’s Dave] Power, [New Trier’s Toni] Rodgers, Mattucci, Dineen and Nussbaum was like watching a state playoff game. They were masters at adjusting their game plan and utilizing their benches.

“Coach Power had the best sense of humor and could erase tension during the game by shouting out instructions that seriously made you laugh. Sometimes it was intentional to relax his players.”

Dankowski, a special education teaching assistant at Maine West, appreciates D-C people like Komaromy, former AD Dick Storm and his wife, Kathy, current AD Steve Gertz, current D-C coach Sarah Miller and announcer Chuck Feldmann, all of whom improved the quality of the tournament.

“To sum it up, the basketball was great, but the camaraderie among all, win or lose, was the best,” Dankowski said. “I will miss the tourney this year, but I’m hoping to reconnect soon.”

Joe Stevenson

I have worked at the Northwest Herald since January of 1989, covering everything from high school to professional sports. I mainly cover high school sports now.