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Columnist
Goodman's floored by Leyden's court decision
By Marty Maciaszek | Daily Herald Columnist

Leyden is naming its basketball court in honor of former coach Norm Goodman, who led the Eagles for 29 years and had a 108-game regular-season winning streak in the 1970s.

 

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Published: 2/5/2009 5:56 PM

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Norm Goodman didn't feel right at home the first time he walked into the Leyden High School fieldhouse in Franklin Park.

Goodman was coaching in Athens, Mich., a town of approximately 1,000, more than a half-century ago when he came to interview for a physical education job near his roots in Chicago.

For Goodman, this was the professional equivalent to jumping from a one-bedroom apartment to a mansion.

"I walked into the fieldhouse and I almost walked out," Goodman said with a laugh. "We played in an old church (at Athens). I saw this and said, 'There's no way I'm going to get in here.'

"But I kept bothering the PE chairman (Sam England) until I got in there."

He did in 1957 and then he took over the East Leyden boys basketball program in 1961.

For the next 29 years, the East Leyden fieldhouse, which is now named after legendary wrestling coach Charles Farina, became Goodman's home theater for some of the best high school basketball in Illinois in that era.

Now the place where he was initially unsure if he would fit in will carry his name. The basketball court will be officially dedicated to Norm Goodman at halftime of tonight's boys game when Leyden hosts Willowbrook.

"It was really a shocker," said Goodman, who was 548-185 for an amazing .748 winning percentage at East Leyden and Leyden until he retired in 1990. "It's really an overwhelming honor.

"I've gone to so many clinics and basketball weekends during the summer and none of them ever talked about naming a court after a high school coach."

Those who know Goodman best know he was no ordinary coach.

"I've never had a better experience in the coaching profession," said Leyden baseball coach Gary Wolf of assisting Goodman from 1984-90. "He was always on top of his game.

"I thought every day he was giving a clinic. What a great honor. No one deserves it more than Norm."

Goodman, Farina and Jack Leese in football formed the school's trio of legendary coaches who came out of the Marines.

"We really controlled the roost and the kids loved it," said the 78-year-old Goodman, who lives in River Forest.

"Every once in a while a school gets a group of coaches like we had all at one time who dedicate everything they've got to the kids," said Tom Dore, who starred on Goodman's mid-1970s teams that won a state record 108 straight regular-season games. "Those three, they were unbelievable.

"Norm, like the other two, whether he had great talent or not, he always seemed to win 22-23 games a year, win a regional and go to a sectional even with a bunch of football players."

But Goodman had some special basketball players such as Dore, who transferred from West Leyden after his sophomore year when his family moved, and teammates Glen Grunwald and John Hendler.

Dore went on to play at Davidson and Missouri and four years overseas before gaining local acclaim doing Bulls' TV play-by-play.

Grunwald played on Indiana's 1981 NCAA championship team, had a seven-year stint as the Toronto Raptors general manager - where he hired a part-time scout named Norm Goodman - and is now a Knicks' front-office executive.

Mike Griffin, who starred on Goodman's third and last supersectional team in 1985, went on to start for Michigan's 1989 NCAA champion.

Jimmy Rodgers, an all-stater in 1961, went on to coach the Celtics. DePaul coach Jerry Wainwright is a former Goodman assistant.

"I immediately thought of all the great kids," Goodman said of his honor. "I never had a kid miss a practice for academic problems. They came from great families."

And Wolf said with Goodman "you're talking about a guy whose family came first, but Leyden basketball was 1A."

It was a dedication to every detail and preparation for every scenario that set Goodman apart from most of his peers. An offensive wrinkle from an opponent or a star's injury or illness never caught him off guard.

"He literally treated us like a major college program every day in practice," Dore said, "but he expected the same back from you, from the first guy to the last."

It's an approach used by Wolf, whose baseball teams the last two years are 52-18 with sectional final trips.

"He's one of my biggest influences," said Wolf, who will introduce Goodman in tonight's ceremony. "I try to run practice sessions in baseball like basketball where there isn't a wasted moment.

"He really taught me how to run a practice."

Not to mention teaching so many other lessons that will have generations of future Leyden players regularly setting foot on Norm Goodman's court.

"He cared so much about his kids going to class and getting good grades and what they were doing in college and afterward," said Dore, who talks to Goodman every two to three weeks. "He doesn't forget that stuff and he doesn't forget the kids who played for him."

Now Leyden is doing its part to ensure Norm Goodman's legacy isn't forgotten.

mmaciaszek@dailyherald.com