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Columnist
Hall of Fame type night all around at Batavia
By John Lemon | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 1/14/2011 1:00 AM

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I admit it. I walked into Batavia High School Thursday night wondering how long it would take for the Vikings student section to start chanting "Let's play football!" Second quarter? Third?

Certainly not an original chant but one to provide some comfort when you are watching your basketball team get beat.

But the undermanned Vikings avoided that chant, and by the time Geneva opened a 10-point lead in overtime I knew what would come next from the students.

"Just like football!"

Again, not original. The original one would come a minute later when the Vikings needled their neighbors to the south with "Just like always!"

Clever I thought, though not entirely accurate (Lori Trippi-Payne's volleyball team, among others, says hello).

But it is with that backdrop of these two long-time rivals going against each other with everything they have, from the court to the stands, that a wonderful pregame ceremony took place. The ceremony honored Bulldogs coach Jim Roberts for his selection to the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame. Roberts will be inducted April 30.

The Bulldogs chose Thursday as a way to recognize Geneva coach Phil Ralston, the coach who nominated Roberts. Batavia athletic director Mike Gaspari took the microphone before the game started and told the crowd:

"As most of you know Jim has spent his entire career here at Batavia recognizing others. So I want to take this opportunity to do that. You probably thought we chose the Geneva-Batavia game because it's among the best rivalries in high school sports. (Big cheers from both fan bases.) Both schools have had outstanding coaches and most importantly outstanding young people who compete for their schools and their communities. (Bigger cheers.)

"The primary reason we picked this evening, I wanted to take the opportunity to thank Phil Ralston from Geneva who was the gentleman responsible for nominating Jim for this great honor," continued Gaspari, a recent Hall of Fame selection himself. "Coach Ralston, thank you so much for your kindness and your dedication to high school basketball."

With that, Gaspari presented Roberts with a plaque congratulating him.

Ralston is on the IBCA board and said he felt it was his obligation "to recognize the people in our district for the accomplishments they have had."

"It was a kind gesture for them to recognize that I was the person that nominated him but for heaven's sakes, Jim is a Hall of Fame coach," Ralston said. "I would be negligent in my duties on the IBCA board to let him not be nominated."

Roberts, always quick to deflect attention from himself, did just that again afterward.

"Very appreciative. Very humbling," Roberts said. "It's a reflection of a lot of kids who have worn our uniform and a lot of coaches who have worked hard with those kids."

Guard Jesse Coffey is part of the latest senior class to wear that classic Batavia sleeved uniform.

"He's a special coach. The tradition he's built here over the past however many years is really unbelievable," Coffey said. "He keeps doing it year in and year out. He's a pretty unique coach. He's a Batavia guy. Seems like he knows everybody in Batavia. He's a good guy."

And a heck of a coach with over 400 wins, all at Batavia, his school. He has poured everything he has back into the program, uniting former Bulldogs from generations around his love for Batavia basketball.

"He's a phenomenal basketball coach and I have a tremendous amount of respect for what he's done with this program and what he continues to do," Ralston said. "I have a tremendous respect for him and anytime I'm able to beat him, man alive it makes me feel like I did my job."

Those chants at the end of the game show these two rivals aren't going to ever stop trying to get the best of each other and enjoying the bragging rights when they get them. Even when they play this game on a Thursday night instead of its rightful place Friday.

But my favorite moment was listening to both Geneva and Batavia fans cheer as Gaspari talked about how special the rivalry is between the two towns.

A Hall of Fame caliber rivalry for sure, with a Hall of Fame coach on one bench and Hall of Fame worthy gesture on the other.

jlemon@dailyherald.com