Coach Alex Renchen stepped down as head coach of the Bradley-Bourbonnais Boilermakers last week, ending an about 30-year run as a basketball coach in our area. He’s been in my life one way or another for more years than he hasn’t, and he had a pretty profound effect on it, even if he didn’t know it.
In the ‘90s at summer Kankakee basketball camps, I was a wildly uncoordinated guard who couldn’t handle the ball.
Young, new head coach Alex Renchen was leading the camps.
I wasn’t someone who was going to be a major contributor at any level in the Kankakee basketball program and never made any of the teams. Even still, I went to the summer camps because I absolutely loved basketball, and I always gave maximum effort.
Coach Renchen noticed.
One day after an incredibly hot and particularly lackluster day of camp in the King Middle School gym, he singled my effort out and told the other campers no matter the conditions, no matter their talent, that’s the effort they should be giving every single day.
Flash forward 20 years, and I’m the new play-by-play man for Game Night, and we’re doing our first game at Bradley-Bourbonnais, where Renchen moved on to after leaving Kankakee years in the past. I had gotten to cover the Boilermakers and Renchen for a few years leading up to that point as a stringer for the Journal and as strange as it always was for me seeing him on that sideline, he was always incredibly professional and cordial and one of the best quotes in the area.
While my color man at the time, Steve Soucie, and I had interviewed Renchen many times before, you never know what you’re going to get that first time live on air. Renchen was, as always, honest and engaging, but it was what he said at the end of the interview that nearly knocked me off my chair.
While Steve and I were making some self-deprecating joke about how we ever even found ourselves on the airwaves, Renchen thanked us for coming out to cover the Boilers and said, “And Paul, to this day, he’s one of the hardest-working players on the basketball court that I’ve ever seen, so I’m sure he’ll be bringing that to the air as well.”
As anyone who knows me will tell you, it takes a lot to quiet me down. This one shocked me silent.
I would (and should) have been barely a blip on the radar for Coach Renchen, and for him to drop that into the end of the interview unsolicited, it’s always meant so much to me.
With Renchen stepping down, it affords me time to think about how much things have changed in youth sports from the ‘90s to today. To be perfectly clear, many of these changes are extremely positive.
There have been changes to player safety. An emphasis, especially at lower levels, of teamwork, sportsmanship and fun. Physical and emotional mistreatment of players still occurs far too frequently but is much more under control and more reviled publicly than ever before.
But one thing hasn’t changed, or at least it shouldn’t have — hard work is rewarded over pure talent.
It feels as though, with Renchen stepping down, it’s the end of an entire coaching era in the area, but should it really be? Renchen wasn’t Woody Hayes or Bob Knight. He preached hard work. He practiced what he preached.
He believed hard work and dedication to your craft would make you better. These are pretty simple tenets and ones that shouldn’t be dated. The lessons Coach Renchen taught could be applied to so much more than sports as well; they certainly apply to all aspects of life.
They’re lessons this former camp-goer never forgot.
Coach, I’m sure there are numerous great days ahead for you (and so much fishing, I’m sure), but I hope you remember the ones that have passed as well and the players you touched. There are so many, too many to list, who you have had a positive influence on, who are better men for having played for you.
That, truly, is your lasting legacy.