sagebrush

First and foremost, congratulations to Ron Oloffson.

When the Herscher High School varsity basketball team pulled away late to post a 46-43 win over Coal City Friday night, Ron notched his 500th win as a high school basketball coach.

It’s been a winding road to win number 500. Mr. Oloffson had compiled a career record of 498 wins and 293 losses before things came to a halt in 2009 when he stepped away from the basketball court to become the principal at Herscher High School.

He would retire as principal in 2013. But a unique set of circumstances led to his return to the bench this season. Last week, he reached the 500 win plateau with wins over Momence first, then Coal City.

His 500-297 record at the moment represents a lot of memories over a coaching career which includes 23 years at Herscher, now going on 24.

But oddly enough, an incident which occurred during a loss stands out in my mind.

The season was 1992-1993 and the Tigers were reloading after three straight 20-plus win seasons.

That particular team may not have been Oloffson’s most talented squad, but those players epitomized their coach’s intensity. They played hard over the course of an 18-10 season.

Herscher was a member of the River Valley Conference at the time, and the Tigers were competing for the conference tournament championship on a Saturday night at Central High School.

Herscher and Manteno locked horns in one of those high school basketball classics. For the Tigers, an appearance in the conference tournament championship game had become all but automatic in those years.

Manteno, on the other hand, had struggled over the years and that season’s title game appearance was new territory for the Panthers.

The teams would battle long and hard over two overtimes before Manteno won, 61-57.

The Tigers were paced by Ryan O’Connor. He led Herscher in scoring that night, as was almost always the case, and finished with 34 points.

Flanking O’Connor that year was Matt Schneider, who came up with many a loose ball and had the floorburns to prove it. 

In the title game’s waning moments, O’Connor’s bucket with 2:12 remaining brought the Tigers within two, 51-49. Moments later, a loose ball was up for grabs and Schneider was naturally in the middle of the fracas. He came up with a bloody lip, nothing major by his standards. However, a little blood had trickled onto his uniform and this is where Coach Oloffson’s will to win took over.

Opposing coach Dave Snider, who had never defeated Herscher in his five years at Manteno, brought it to referee Bill Spriggs’ attention that Schneider had traces of blood on his uniform.

A new rule, passed amidst the AIDS hysteria at the time, prohibited a player from dribbling a basketball after he had dribbled blood on his jersey. 

Oloffson quickly sized up the situation and instructed reserve player Ryan Williamson to trade jerseys with Schneider. 

Schneider’s change from his own 22 to Williamson’s 42 was duly noted at the scorer’s table.

Coach Snider then eagle-eyed a spot of blood on Schneider’s shorts. The same rule applied.

Oloffson, again thinking fast, called for a quick team huddle. A make-shift dressing room with plenty of peep holes was assembled before a packed house, and Williamson and Schneider made another quick trade.

Schneider was able to stay in the game. And even more amazing, this all took place without having to burn a timeout.

“I’ve seen a lot of basketball, but this was a first,” Oloffson commented afterward.

In the movies, Schneider would’ve scored the winning bucket at the buzzer. But in that night’s real world, the Tigers would come up short. 

But a key player was able to stay in the game thanks to a quick-thinking coach and a benchwarmer who made an important contribution by means of a somewhat embarrassing sacrifice for the good of the team.

Now that Ron Oloffson has come out of retirement, Herscher basketball players should follow this time-honored motherly advice:

Always wear clean underwear. You never know when you may be called upon to take one for the team.