As we are busily wrapping, sending and opening presents this holiday season, we thought we would add a wish list for Santa, or whomever grants such things, for presents we’d like our community to open during the 2023 sports schedule – among them state titles, better athletic facilities, and, yes, improved food at prep events. Hey, we get hungry.
Kyle Daubs spoke with the Coles County staff to gather a list of Christmas wishes for sports in our county.
Let the unwrapping begin!
A return of the Charleston boys basketball tournament
When it gets to holiday tournament time, nostalgia flashes. The Charleston Holiday Tournament used to be one of the best boys basketball tournaments in the state. Now, the Effingham/Teutopolis tournament has replaced it. Losing anything to rival Effingham should hurt. The tournament has remarkably been disbanded since 2010. Any true local fan remembers the days of high school basketball at Lantz Arena. Why not bring it back – and recreate those memories.
A combined Coles County girls’ basketball tournament
The Mattoon Holiday Tournament and Charleston Holiday Tournament should combine and create a mega girls tournament. Mattoon and Charleston could use both of their gyms and have eight teams participate at each school. The champion from each school could then face off in a championship game. The final games for the fifth, third, and championship could alternate each year. If nobody likes that idea, bring in eight “small schools” and eight “large schools” and do separate brackets. Each year, the locations of the small school and large schools could change. Regardless the format, it would be create even more excitement for two both tournaments.
Fluffy burgers at basketball games
Anybody that has been to Grimes Field in the past knows all about the glorious fluffy burger. It’s a staple of the baseball summer, but why can’t it be brought to the wintertime? There is always somebody that loves to grill, even in zero-degree weather. Somebody has to give this a test drive and see what the profits look like.
A new logo on the EIU football field
The logo at O’Brien Stadium is starting to lose its luster. It’s time for Eastern Illinois University to get something that pops out more. Yes, we realize it’s difficult trying to raise funds for athletics with a large Big Ten school up the road, but fans look first at this logic when they walk in. For that matter, EIU could use a makeover for several athletic facilities. Here’s hoping the new university president leans into athletics, realizing that sports draws in athletes, excites the local community – and, ultimately, could help in recruiting even more students to the school’s many wonderful academic programs.
A state baseball trip for Mattoon High School
Some bias might come from one of our panelists –given that his son is a senior at Mattoon High School – but this is a wish list. The Owens family has been around baseball for decades. This is one last hurrah for these loyal Green Wave fans, so shouldn’t their last year go out with a bang?
Lake Land College to add football
Could you imagine a world where Coles County had Friday and Saturday night football every week? Mattoon and Charleston High Schools are pretty balanced when it comes to having a home game when the other is away. Eastern Illinois plays on Saturdays a lot of the time. Imagine if the team was on the road and Lake Land was playing junior college football at home. Lake Land already has a solid program in all of the sports they have. Why not bring the true money-maker to Mattoon?
Minor league baseball at Coles County
Grimes Field, located in Peterson Park, is named after the great Bill Grimes, a pioneer for youth baseball in the community. Before that, Mattoon featured numerous minor-league baseball teams. The Mattoon Phillies were a minor league team that played sporadically between 1899 and 1957. The team played continuously between 1947-57 as an affiliate for the White Sox, Indians, Reds, Phillies and Athletics. With a beautiful field like that, wouldn’t it be nice to have some minor-league baseball to watch?
More youth sports coaches
The coaching world is getting harder to live in these days. The world is losing quality coaches because they would rather not put up with the hassle of constantly being second-guessed and undermined. We hope more youth sports coaches can develop skills, and attitudes and, more importantly, develop a love for whatever games or events that kids want to play.
Mattoon wrestling to get a state champion
Last year, several talented Mattoon wrestlers made strong pushes in the state tournament. Kiefer Duncan, Korbin Bateman, and Leo Meyer all earned state medals. Bateman and Meyer are back this year and could make a run to the state championship. Mattoon has never had a state champion as Trevor Edwards and Mike Stanley, both runner-ups, are the closest to earning that honor. Maybe this year?
EIU to bring back wrestling
Speaking of wrestling, Eastern Illinois used to have a dominant team at Division I and Division II levels. There is a long list of All-Americans that came from Charleston. The program disbanded in 2007. It’s been 15 years since a wrestler came out of EIU. It might be time to bring it back a sport that is fan-friendly.
New sports facilities for Charleston
Mattoon High has funded several exciting, and needed, changes in its athletic facilities this past year. Charleston High. meanwhile, received a new tennis court. Hopefully, CHS can find grants to improve its own stadium and gyms. (We wouldn’t mind a larger press box, if you can fit it in).
An answer to who replaces Lincoln in the Apollo Conference
This is the final season that Lincoln will play in the Apollo Conference. For now, there is no replacement and that leaves the conference set with Charleston, Mattoon, Mount Zion, Effingham, Taylorville, and Mahomet-Seymour. Ideally, the conference needs to get back to at least seven, but eight would be a perfect number. Some personal thoughts include reaching out to Decatur MacArthur, Decatur Eisenhower, and Urbana. Trying to lure back Olney (East Richland) and Paris would be another thought as well.
Another national title for Lake Land
Lake Land women won the national title two seasons ago. Both the Lakers men and women are playing great basketball. The women’s team is ranked No. 6 in the nation. The men’s program is having its best season in years as it continues to improve under coach Julian Larry. What a gift to see either program qualify for the national tournament. Maybe this the year that perennial national contender Lake Land softball gets to the final game. Let’s not forget that the baseball team has taken significant steps over the past two seasons.
A hospitality room in all sporting events
If you are going to have a tournament, then there should be a hospitality room for the workers and media. That is a lot of time given to run these tournaments, so the people that are there should be taken care of. We aren’t talking cereal boxes either. Sponsors will always help the community with the right relationship. For any non-worker trying to steal some delicious food, they better look out for Chet Piotrowski and his rolled-up Sunday paper.
A weekly Brian Nielsen contribution
When reading articles from the town newspaper in the 1980s, 90s, and 2000s, I noticed a constant and familiar name – former JG-TC sports editor Brian Nielsen, who is a member of the Hall of Fame as a media member. He hasn’t regularly written sports in the area since 2015. It’s always a gift when we read a sports story from Nielsen, a true expert on local sports.
The classroom teachers in Joe Gisondi, Jeff Owens, and I are on the same page with this one. Here’s wishing student-athletes the same diligence, excitement, and eagerness in the class room as they have on the fields and gyms where they compete. Sports are an extracurricular, and a minuscule percentage of athletes play in college and professionally. But everybody benefits from good study habit, a strong work ethic and a solid education. It all starts in the classroom where teachers are essentially academic coaches.
EIU women’s basketball OVC championship
In case anyone didn’t notice, the EIU women’s basketball team is 8-2. That is the best start to their season in a decade. The Ohio Valley Conference season has not started yet. An OVC championship would be ideal, Santa!
Let’s all learn the facts before we get upset with coaches and athletes. We are fortunate to have wonderful people in this community who want to help athletes grow in both sports and life. That’s no easy task. It’s sad to see the disrespect sometimes shown to them along the sidelines, behind the scenes and on social media. Coaching can be grueling. Players, meanwhile, are trying their best, finding their ways both on and off the field. Patience is the key for us all.
A vacation day for Joe Gisondi
Gisondi is a teacher at EIU, adviser/director for the Daily Eastern News and yearbook, and the biggest piece of the puzzle for Coles County Sports. Without him, this site would not be possible. The world of journalism is lucky to have him. With that said, it’s time for him to take a break. Hopefully, this is enough to convince him, Betsy.
A Pulitzer Prize for Coles County Sports
Come on, don’t we deserve it? On second thought, please don’t answer.