Illinois Basketball Museum Commemorates Love of Game

Basketball symbolizes Illinois as much as sweet corn, the red bird and Abe Lincoln.

Generations of farm kids grew up shooting at hoops nailed above barn doors. City kids learned resiliency playing street ball on concrete courts in the ‘hood. Thousands of student athletes remember cheering and charging across the hardwood inspired by the American national anthem at tip off.

The Illinois Basketball Coaches Association (IBCA) wants to commemorate this history by building our own museum along the famous route 66 in Pontiac, but it will take a team effort to get the foundation laid.[embedyt][/embedyt]

Illinois’ stars could easily fill the galleries from shot blocking, hook shooting legendary pioneer George Mikan to Doug Collins, former Illinois State University star, NBA player and coach, to Michael Jordan’s stellar Chicago Bulls era. Female standouts such as Olympians Charlotte Lewis (1976), gold medalists Cathy Boswell (1984) and WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks superstar Candace Parker (2008, 2012) also deserve a spot.Illinois Basketball

My family holds a tiny piece of the legend. My grandpa, “Coach Mac,” a 7x hall of famer, led his Northern Illinois University teams to three Little 19/IIAC crowns in the 1940s. My dad, Jim McKinzie, a NIU Hall of Fame athlete was named on the All-Decade Team and All-Century Team for his contributions as a guard in the 1950s.

When I was growing up, girls were shunned from sports, but with athleticism as a birthright, I fought to be allowed in the game.  In the infancy of Title IX, I blazed a my own trail as the first athletic scholarship recipient to Illinois State before playing professionally in the first Women’s Basketball League (WBL) then for teams in France and Germany.

My hometown, Sterling, also played a significant role. My dad co-coached the Sterling High School team that included my younger sister, which went 21-0 and won the first IHSA state girls cage title (1976-77) hosted by Illinois State.

Three generations and four family members have been inducted into IBCA Hall of Fame – my grandfather, Ralph McKinzie, as a coach (1976), my dad and sister, Karen, as part of the championship team (2004) and me as a player (2005).

The list of Illinois’ basketball greats goes on from players, to officials, to coaching dynasties from Toluca High School’s Chuck Rolinski and Ray Meyer’s 42-year stint (1942-1984) at DePaul University to extraordinary fans like Sister Jean (Jean Delores Schmidt). The 98-year-old nun, a beloved member of the Loyola basketball community, who exemplifies our lasting bonds with favorite teams.

But no one in the state has done more for the game than Jill Hutchison. In a legacy spanning 28 seasons as Illinois State University’s head basketball coach, Hutchison was co founder and first president of the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association.

To appreciate her impact, we must remember how far we have come. Hutchison’s master thesis proved that a woman’s heart wouldn’t explode by running the fast break. This led to a change in rules – instead of a six-player half court game to the full court five-player game.

As tournament director for the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW), she helped establish the regions and the qualifying process for the first national tournament in 1971-1972, which was nearly identical to the regions used in the NCAA today.

At ISU, a powerhouse of womIllinois Basketballen including Hutchison advocated for women even before the 1972 Title IX enactment mandated equal opportunities in academics and athletics.

“Cultural change is slow, slower than you ever want it to be. And that’s what Title IX was—a cultural change, not just for athletics. Females…crossing the gender barrier, that was huge,” Hutchison said.

So often, the pioneers’ accomplishments are overlooked because history is not always recorded as it is being made, especially when the people in power are against the change. A museum could correct this oversight.

Like so many hailing from the Land of Lincoln, a love of basketball reflects my heritage.

Illinois basketball not only influenced me, it also shaped American history.

Find out more about how to help build Illinois Basketball Museum here.

Posted in inspiration, sport.


    • Thanks Brenda, that is a real compliment coming from such a talented writer like yourself. I appreciate your words.

  1. As a person with Illinois roots, being born and bred in Chicago, my husband attending Northern Illinois and as a high school teacher, TITLE IX bringing great and needed change, your post is a wonderful slice of history. I think as we look back on our lives, it is important to write down history in any form. I have never been athletic, but if there is one sport I enjoy watching and cheering the players on IT IS BASKETBALL. Thanks.

    • It is a small world, Beth. When did your husband graduate from NIU? Did he teach in Illinois? If you enjoy watching basketball then March is certainly the month to be a fan. Thanks for taking time to comment. I look forward to seeing you again on the Midlife Blvd and Boomer Highway.

  2. Enjoyed your column about the IBCA. The first time I visited the Bloomington-Normal Holiday Inn in the late 1970s and walked down the hallway with all the IBCA HOF plaques was a trip down memory lane—all the names, teams that I grew up learning about or following, plus a lot of Northern Illinois types—including my boss / mentor Bud Nangle in the media wing. To this day, for this basketball fan, it was a thrill. Our home state has a rich legacy in hoops. Over the years, I’ve been to the IBCA Banquet 4-5 times and that event oozes with our state’s tradition.

    Being inducted into the IBCA HOF media wing in 1999 was and still is a career highlight for me.

  3. Pat, I always think of you at this March Madness time of year! We’re down to the Final Four (both men and ladies), and I’m always amazed at the sheer talent and determination these players and coaches exhibit. It’s sure a different game from what was played even a decade ago!

    • Yes, the level of play sure has changed a lot, but the love of the game remains the same. I sure wish I could be in the states for the month of March to savor the Madness. Enjoy!

I would love to hear from you

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.