Bureau County basketball history to come alive July 15 in Mineral

Bureau County basketball history will come alive Saturday, July 15, in Mineral from those who have played it, lived it and written about it.

The Basketball Museum of Illinois will host a presentation from a panel of local players, coaches and a sports writer to share history of Bureau County basketball history. The event sponsored by the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association will be held at 1:30 p.m., July 15 the Mineral Methodist Church, located at 237 E. Second St.

Mineral was chosen for the event as a salute to Mineral native Dave Nanninga, creator of the Illinois High School Glory Days website, which promotes the history of high schools in Illinois that are closed.

“I am ecstatic that the IBCA has chosen Mineral as one of the venues for their series of events to capture some of the unique stories, individuals, and events that have occurred in Illinois basketball history,” said Nanninga, a retired Illinois State Trooper. “I think it is so important to have the oral history documenting the stories and past basketball history of Bureau County.”

Nanninga will be joined by Mineral High School basketball players from the early 1950s, Ron Childs, Stan Gingrich, Don Miller and Ed Morey, who were inducted into the BCR’s Bureau County Sports Hall of Fame in 2004 in front of crowd of 300 Leopards fans all decked in Kelly green.

That event inspired Nanninga to create the Glory Days site a year later.

“For one night those players, cheerleaders, and fans, most then in their late 60s, were able to cheer for their high school that closed in 1961, 43 years prior to the event,” he said.

Two Hall of Fame coaches and a future Hall of Fame coach along with an All-State player, headline the event in Mineral.

They are:

* Brad Bickett, an All-State player for Ohio in 1986, and led Bureau Valley to an unprecedented three straight Class 1A third-place State finishes. He also coached at Buda Western and Rock Falls, retiring with a 493-313 career record. He was named as one of the “100 Legends of the IHSA Tournament” in 2016.

He was recently inducted into the Shaw Media Illinois Valley Sports Hall of Fame and previously inducted into the Bureau County Sports Hall of Fame.

* Chuck Blake, who led his hometown Neponset girls basketball program to three straight Sweet 16 appearances in 1991-93. He coached at Neponset from 1981-1994, compiling a 261-79 record with eight regional championships. The Lady Zephyrs were inducted into the Bureau County Sports Hall of Fame.

Blake also coached the boys team at Atkinson and the girls at Wethersfield and Kewanee.

The Neponset Lady Zephyrs won three straight sectional championships, capped by a 44-42 victory over host Dunlap in 1993.

* Annawan girls basketball coach Jason Burkiewicz, who led the Bravettes to State championships in 2014 and 2017. He was also a member of Hall’s State runner-up team in 1998.

* Val (Wancket) Van Hyfte, an All-State player from nearby Atkinson, a closed school, and standout at Bradley University. She is an assistant at Annawan and had three daughters, Celina, Morgan and Jade, play for Burkiewicz’ Bravettes.

I am honored to be invited by Dave to join this esteemed panel. I have covered Bureau County basketball since November, 1986. I just missed Bickett’s playing days at Ohio, but got to follow his Storm teams at State. I also got to cover Burkiewicz’s Red Devils’ State team and the Bravettes teams he coaches.

The July 15 event is open to all. Admission is free, but a donation to the Basketball Museum of Illinois located at the Wintrust Sports Complex in suburban Bedford Park would be appreciated.

Nanninga said all are encouraged to wear or bring apparel from schools that are closed, such as banners, pennant pictures and school memorabilia. I will proudly bring my dad’s 1950 Atlanta Redwings letter sweater.

“We would love to see the Wyanet Eagles, Buda Western Rams, Sheffield Cardinals, Buda Bears, Manlius Red Devils, Tiskilwa Indians and others represented at this event,” he said.

In Bureau County alone there are 20 former high schools listed on the Glory Days website. Of those, at least 14 had varsity basketball teams at one time.

There are now just six Bureau County high schools which field basketball teams now - Bureau Valley, DePue, Hall, LaMoille, Princeton and St. Bede.

“One of the most heart-wrenching things that can happen to anyone is to have their high school closed,” Nanninga said. “As a kid growing up in Mineral, being born in 1962, the year after Mineral High School closed, I was fascinated with the stories from my uncles, Benny and Eddie Morey, my mom, Nancy, and my grandmother, Ula Morey, regarding the great Mineral teams over the 1930s through 1961.

“Any kid who has grown up in a town of under 2,000 whose high school has closed or consolidated knows of the great pride that the townspeople and alumni felt for their high school.”

On July 15, those schools and their memories, will come alive again.

Kevin Hieronymus is the BCR Sports Editor. Contact him at khieronymus@bcrnews.com

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Kevin Hieronymus

Kevin Hieronymus

Kevin has been sports editor of the BCR since 1986. He previously was sports editor of the St. Louis Daily News and was a regular contributor for the St. Louis Cardinals' magazine. He is a 2021 inductee into the IBCA Hall of Fame (Media) and a 2023 inductee into the Shaw Media Illinois Valley Hall of Fame as "Distinguished Media."