When you have been doing basketball business for nearly 70 years, you are doing something right.
So it is with the Alton Exchange Club and its annual Prep Players of the Year banquet. The local organization had basketball fete No. 69 on Wednesday at the Holiday Inn in Alton. Deion Lavender of Marquette Catholic and Megan Trost of Civic Memorial were the main award winners.
“When you have something going for 69 years, it speaks volumes about the commitment of this organization,” featured speaker Ed Hightower said. “The Alton Exchange Club has been recognizing the accomplishments of young people for a long time.”
Who would have thought that when Dick Erzen of East Alton-Wood River was the first recipient back in 1946, it would start a long string of award winners?
Yet the Exchange Club, beginning its banquet the same year the NBA took shape, has made it work. And the event has changed throughout the years even though the idea remains the same – honor the best local players.
Now, it’s guys and gals from Alton, Marquette, Roxana, EA-WR and Civic Memorial. The Redbirds, Oilers and Shells dominated the winners’ list the first 15 years, when it was a boys-only honor.
Then in 1960, Karl Doucleff of now-closed Western Military Academy of Alton became the first and only winner from that school. Sadly, WMA closed in 1971, but you can still find Doucleff watching area basketball games. It’s in his blood.
Bob Hilgendorf of CM was the first CM Eagle to capture the Player of the Year award. Marquette didn’t produce a winner until Steve Mason reigned in 1988. A fellow named Mike Waldo coached him before Waldo moved on to bigger things at Edwardsville High.
Since then, the Explorers have won it five times on the boys side. Lavender, bound for Southern Illinois University in Carbondale and the St. Louis-based Missouri Valley Conference, is the latest winner.
And let’s hear it for the girls. They started getting in on the fun 21 years ago and made it a more attractive event. The Exchange Club added to the festivities by saluting players for their extra efforts (110 percent awards), free throw shooting skills and team MVPs. There are also team sportsmanship winners.
Roxana’s Hunter Reine, Alton’s Tony Bradley, Kavon Lacey, Demarko “Book” Snipes and Larry Smith are all two-time winners, as is Marquette’s Tony Certa.
CM’s Katie Broadway is the lone three-time beneficiary, receiving the girls main award from 2006-08. Emily Best of EA-WR was a two-time winner. Now, Trost is in that group.
Many former champions went on to coach, including Cliff Talley, Gary Lane, Dave Taynor, Steve Wooley, Jonathan Denney, Ty Laux, Angela Payne, Michelle Beiermann, Travis Williams, Jordan Davis, Lacey and Broadway, among others
So basketball was good to them and they were good for local hoops. Sometimes it works out that way.
Next time the Exchange Club recognizes the local players, it’ll be seven decades of toasting them. Time sure goes fast when you are having fun.
If you doubt it, just ask the award winners. I’m sure they can vividly recall their glory days and those seasons in the sun.
OUT AND ABOUT: Hightower, the Edwardsville Superintendent of Schools, reminded the student-athletes to do the right thing. “Whatever you choose to do with your life, make sure you commit to be the best,” he said…
…Marquette is seeking a girls head volleyball coach, an assistant girls basketball coach and an assistant girls soccer coach. Interested individuals should send resumes to Explorers’ athletics director Sara Ulrich at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 463-0583 for more information….