Conrad “Babe” Champion received an early Christmas present.
The Granite City resident was inducted into the 2016 Illinois Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame. The 44th annual ceremony is scheduled for April 30 at the Bone Student Center at Illinois State University.
“It’s a wonderful honor,” Champion said. “I’ve been out of sports since 1989 as far as officiating, but I worked for 37 years. It’s nice to be remembered. At 83, I’m very happy.”
Champion said he found out about his honor from a phone call from the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association on Dec. 9.
“What’s so nice about it is many of my friends who have coached,” Champion said. “Now, there are fellas from other parts of the state of Illinois that I met over the years and we’re all going to be together. There will be 115 people who will be inducted from the friends, the basketball officials and basketball coaches.”
Champion started working as a basketball official in the early 1950s and retired in 1989. He officiated games in the high school, junior college and collegiate levels.
“I had an opportunity to work in a lot of tournaments,” Champion said. “During Christmas time, I think of the Mater Dei and the Centralia tournaments. I worked in Salem in the mid-year tournaments. Edwardsville used to have a mid-year tournament earlier in my officiating career. But I’ve been around in some areas and I got invited and I met some wonderful people and lasting people for the last 37 years in officiating and 26 years in retirement.”
Champion, a lifelong Granite City resident, was a member of the 1948 Granite City High baseball team that won a state championship. The GCHS baseball field is named after him.
Champion taught at the Granite City School District for 33 years; 27 of them were at GCHS. He also coached baseball for 20 years. Champion has been a volunteer for the Granite City school system for 15 years.
Besides being an official in basketball games, Champion also worked college football for 15 years (1977-1992). He was inducted as a charter member of the Granite City Sports Hall of Fame in 1987 and received the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Honorary Referee of the Year Award in 1996.
Champion also was a standout in fast-pitch softball. He was a player-manager for the Granite City Park District in 1962-63 and helped the team finish second in the state tournament both years. He also participated in the National Fastpitch Tournament in Indianapolis.
“Sports have been good to me and my family,” Champion said.
The Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame began in 1973 to honor the best and most influential players, teams, coaches, media and officials in Illinois history.
Champion is one of 11 officials inducted into the IBCA Hall of Fame. The others are Sam Banks, Gerard Blum, James Capers, Kevin Cates, Jim Johnson, Tom Maubach, Mark Moberly, Edward Monaghan, Sal Vasta and Rob Watson. Monaghan and Watson are deceased.
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