As we turn the clock towards 2022, many of us are excited about what the new year brings. Personally, I am coming off a cross country season that saw my team win the conference and my three-year-old is finally starting to shoot a basketball on her toddler basketball hoop. I’m excited about the future.
With that said, my allegiance to Coles County has never wavered, which is why I continue to contribute at a high rate for this online publication. I often find myself thinking, probably too much, about everything going on in my life, as well as my hometown two hours away.
When I look back on the magic that happened in 2021, which included conference championships and state playoff pushes, I found myself thinking about these 10 epiphanies when it came to sports in the Coles County area.
10 . Salt and Vinegar chips are amazing
This technically has nothing to do with sports, but I thank Coles County for the contribution. I was attending a track meet and I tried salt and vinegar chips for the first time. I am a grown, 28-year old male, that turns 29 in January, that had never tried these before. These might be my favorite chips and I have been missing out on them my entire life.
9. Future MHS students are so lucky
I currently coach track and field on a cinder track in a district that will likely never be able to afford an eight-lane, all-weather track. I know what it’s like to truly coach a sport with not a lot of equipment. When Mattoon announced their $4.4 million spending spree, I was excited about the area but pretty jealous too. With top of the art facilities, it’s going to be fun going to athletic events, even if you are not playing the sport.
8. Cody Drone, Bill Behrends, & Jerry Payne are the fastest emailers
The fastest emailers of 2021 go to Charleston basketball coach Cody Drone, Charleston football coach Jerry Payne, and former Mattoon boys golf coach Bill Behrends. Outside of football previews, I do most of my communication through email. I will talk to Payne on the phone before games, but when I need a quick response, Payne is always quick to answer. The same goes for Drone. Behrends once emailed me back information on an invite 4 minutes later, which has to be the record.
7. No more football talk with Troy Johnson
I am going to miss talking to Troy Johnson before gamedays. I was always appreciative of how honest he was about his team and opponents. He always provided good content for our stories as well. Outside of that, I just enjoyed talking the extra five minutes about school-related issues and coaching. Those extra tidbits of knowledge go a long way. I still can’t believe he had no idea that he won 100 games in his career this year.
6. Why is Paul Stranz not in the Hall of Fame?
With Dave Johnson, Jeff Miller and Steve Conlon making the Hall of Fame, it got me thinking. After all this time since his retirement, why has Stranz not been added to the Hall of Fame for coaching? At Charleston, Stranz compiled a record of 219-90-26 with four Apollo Conference championships, seven Regional Championships, four Sectional Championships, and three state qualifiers with the boys. With the girls, that included a total record of 194-83-28 with five Regional Championships, a Sweet 16 appearance, and an undefeated regular season. Somebody needs to make a call.
5. You will never make everyone happy
When I wrote about the old Charleston Holiday Boys Basketball Tournament that spanned from 1980 to 2010, I wasn’t expecting this particular story to blow up. It has given me some ideas for the future, which I am sure will ignite some Coles County chatter. It didn’t take long for Andrew Shick and Mitch Shick to critique my list, as well as some other family and friends wondering why this person was snubbed, or why their ranking was too low, or too high. That’s the wonder of sports writing. Someone is always going to be upset.
4. Coles County Christmas Classic
I understand that the Mattoon girls tournament has spanned 42 years and the Charleston tournament has been around since 1993. These tournaments have brought some top talent to the area. With that said, the Effingham/Teutopolis boys tournament is flourishing just 30 minutes away where they use two schools. It’s time that these two tournaments merged. Make a small school and large school bracket, if you must, but imagine having a 16-team tournament called the Coles County Christmas Classic. Mattoon and Charleston could rotate championship sites each year. Heck, create a boys tournament while you’re at it or make it 32 teams since both schools have two gyms. This would be an amazing event in the area.
3. Never stop dreaming
I can’t tell you how many times I dream about taking a cross country team to state. I get goosebumps thinking about it. Isn’t that every coach’s dream at the junior or high school level? Win or make state? Lake Land women’s basketball coach Dave Johnson, though, has done this all to earn Hall of Fame status. Johnson had led Lake Land to the national tournament several times. In 2021, he led Lake Land to their first national championship. That’s an inspiration for the rest of us.
2. All good things must end
The year 2021 was a year of loss for many people, but it was also a loss in the coaching world. We lost a lot of great coaches to retirement this year. After five decades of coaching tennis in the Mattoon area, Dwight Perry finally retired after the boys’ tennis season. Then, Jeff Miller retired as the all-time winningest coach in Charleston girls basketball history after capping off an undefeated season. Finally, Troy Johnson retired from Green Wave football after so many great years coaching football in general. Not to bring up any bad feelings, but we saw Charleston baseball coach Derrick Landrus leave after over 350 wins coaching Trojan baseball. Like them or not, they were some of the best coaches in Coles County sports history. And now they are done.
1. Coles County Sports is a unicorn
A good friend of mine called our operation a unicorn. Every single person that contributes to this site has a full-time job, yet we devote a chunk of our time to continue local coverage on Coles County Sports. Joe Gisondi, Jeff Owens, Mike Monahan, Chet Piotrowski, Dominic Baima and I form one heckuva team. We don’t sit in production meetings or spitball ideas. We just know what to do because we grew up reading so many great sports stories. As previously mentioned, I live two hours away and teach in Peoria. But Coles County will always be home so I will never stop following the sports or stop writing about them. If you would like to donate, we would appreciate it. With that said, it’s amazing what we all have accomplished this year, which included over 225,000 views.