Monday, November 17, 2014

Who the heck is Coal City?

Well, first of all, it's not that picture above. That's actually a photo of the Coal City Club in Coal City, West Virginia, taken back in 1974. But I'll bet it fits the image most Chicagoans have of the village.

Located about 62 miles southwest of Bronzeville, in Grundy and Will counties, the 2010 census put Coal City's population at 5,587, of which over 98 percent is white.

Not surprisingly, Coal City was named for several coal mines in the vicinity:

In 1820, Peter Lansett, a Canadian trader, was just one of the few that populated the soon to be Coal City area. Lansett collected coal from the ground and sold it to local blacksmiths and farmers, who formerly burned ears of corn for heat and energy. The more effective coal provided an economic boost for growth.

According to its Wikipedia page:

The little town of Coal City was mentioned in the classic comedy "The Blues Brothers." Elwood Blues (as played by Dan Aykroyd) explains that his brother Jake (John Belushi) was in prison for holding up a gas station, and then says "He pulled that job to pay for the band's room service tab from that Kiwanis gig in Coal City."

For years residents of Coal City wondered if Aykroyd really said "Coal City" or said "Cal City" (a nickname for Calumet City, a much bigger city in Illinois). However, when watching the DVD of Blues Brothers with subtitles on, the text says "Coal City."

However, from Calumet City's Wikipedia page:

Calumet City is featured or mentioned in a number of major movies. John Belushi's "Joliet Jake" and Dan Aykroyd's "Elwood" characters from "The Blues Brothers" were born in Calumet City, and so is the orphanage they grew up in which they save "on a mission from God" by paying $5000 in property taxes from a $10,000 record deal at their concert as well as "Ray's Music Exchange" that holds the famed Ray Charles "Shake Your Tail-Feather" scene of the movie, which was a tribute to Calumet City's Hegewisch Records Store.

I'll let you be the judge.

In the meantime, Coal City High School, with an enrollment of about 650 students, goes by the nickname Coalers and competes in the Interstate Eight Conference. The school is the alma mater of Greg Washburn (above), who pitched for the California Angels in 1969. He came up to the Bigs for "a cup of coffee," as my father used to say. Washburn was only on the team from June 7 to September 21 of that year. He compiled a won-loss record of 0-2 with an ERA of 7.94 and four strikeouts.

(By the way, that other guy in the baseball card above, Wally Wolf, didn't fare a whole lot better. He played for two seasons, appearing in two games during the 1969 season and four the next. Wolf's lifetime record was 0-0 with an equally high 7.04 ERA and seven strikeouts. I wonder where these two guys are today?)

As for the football team, the No. 7-seed Coalers (10-2) are coached by Lenny Onsen (above) and are ranked No. 57 in the state by MaxPreps, behind Glenbard North (4-5) and ahead of Lyons (5-5). In eight seasons at the helm, Onsen has compiled a record of 62-22. From an article in the Morris Daily Herald (my emphasis):

The current head coach of the Coalers, Lenny Onsen, was a member of the first varsity team the school fielded, so he has seen it grow from the start. He was on the coaching staff during the state title run of 1993 and head coach in the runner-up year of 2004. He has seen the building of a tradition from the ground up.

The school’s first varsity team was in 1978, when Onsen was a senior. He coached one year in Dwight, in 1987, before returning to Coal City in 1988 and has been there ever since. He even came back on weekends during college and worked on the chain gang.

“There is nothing like a small-town playoff game, and we’ve been fortunate enough to have quite a few of them,” he said. “We also hold our youth camp on the game field, just to let the young kids know that someday they can run through that tunnel with the fireworks going off. That creates a lot of excitement. We also get a lot of help from our Touchdown Club that feeds the kids on Wednesdays during the season and holds fundraisers. They are a big part of our tradition, too.”

Coal City played six winning teams this year, beating Plano (6-4), Mendota (6-4) and St. Edward (10-1). The Coalers lost (like everyone else this season) to Wilmington (12-0) and split two one-point games with Manteno (10-2). The two players to watch on offense are quarterback Nick Micetich (above) and running back Jack Dibble (below).

Here's the Coalers' full 2014 schedule (home team in CAPS):

Coal City 27, REED-CUSTER 13
Wilmington 26, COAL CITY 7
COAL CITY 13, Peotone 0
Coal City 22, PLANO 13
Coal City 49, SANDWICH 14
COAL CITY 14, Streator 0
MANTENO 24, Coal City 23
Coal City 42, LISLE 7
COAL CITY 48, Seneca 0
COAL CITY 40, Mendota 14
Coal City 25, ST. EDWARD 20
COAL CITY 29, Manteno 28

Phillips, with which readers of this blog should be well acquainted by now, are 11-1 and ranked No. 15 in the Tribune, No. 19 in the Sun-Times and No. 25 by MaxPreps, behind Joliet Catholic (8-3) and ahead of Pearl City-Eastland (12-0).

While Coal City and Phillips have never faced each other, the two programs both beat Plano this year by similar scores.

So who wins this one? I'm going to stick with the Wildcats. Kickoff is at 3:45 at beautiful Gately Park on the city's South Side, wedged between the Providence - Mount Carmel game at noon and the Homewood-Flossmoor - Simeon contest at 7:15. The forecast right now is a (relatively) balmy 39 degrees and partly sunny. If you can't make it, I'll be live-tweeting the action for as long as my battery holds out @BoringOldWhtGuy.

Enjoy the game!

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