Goss: Night of Champions oozes class
April 20, 2012 9:50PM
Ed Spiezio (left) and Joliet Mayor Tom Giarrante at the eighth annual Joliet Township High School Athletic Booster Club Night of Champions. | Larry Kane~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: May 23, 2012 8:16AM
Along with remarkable athletic success, that word summarizes the award winners at Thursday’s eighth annual Joliet Township High School Athletic Booster Club Night of Champions at the IBEW 176 Hall.
From basketball players Cathy Boswell and Gary Bell, to baseball player Ed Spiezio, baseball coach Jerry Pius, athletes and coaches turned principals John Randich and Craig Spiers and the 1981 Joliet West state championship wrestling team under coach Mike Cookas, it’s difficult to imagine a more deserving group.
To top off the festivities, Chris Olson, district director of activities and athletics, presented a surprise special award to booster club president Glen Marcum, who served as the master of ceremonies and co-chairs the annual event with Marcum.
The format was the same as recent years, where video is shown of winners’ acceptances, while teammates, coaches and friends also discuss their qualities. You know what that meant — along with serious kudos came zingers that made the night all the more fun.
We will visit Boswell, Bell and Spiezio in this column, with more on the state wrestling champions, Pius, Randich and Spiers coming Monday.
Cathy Boswell: Boswell led West to the Class 2A state basketball championship in 1978, played at Illinois State (she is in the ISU and Missouri Valley Conference halls of fame), was a 1984 Olympic gold medalist, played professionally for 21 years in Germany, Spain, Italy and Brazil and now is in the Canary Islands teaching and coaching kids.
“Most of Cathy’s friends growing up were the boys in the neighborhood who could play basketball,” her mom, Clarice, said.
“ ‘Bos’, let me see,” her West teammate, Mickey Vanderhyden, said. “Boy, could she eat. We had a contest a couple of times at McDonald’s and I think she ate eight cheeseburgers once. Where did she put it?”
“All the people back home who supported me through the years, you’re in my heart even though I can’t be there,” Boswell said. “I really like what I am doing now, working at the level where I can help kids.”
Gary Bell: The 1995 West graduate was a Parade, USA Today and Street & Smith’s All-American and runner-up in Illinois’ Mr. Basketball voting to Kevin Garnett. He teaches and is the varsity basketball coach at Overhills, N.C.
Bell was a four-year varsity star at West — almost.
“We had a rule that everyone had to be ‘Eldersized’ (the freshman coach was John Elder),” former coach Mike O’Connell said. “They had to spend two weeks with Mr. Elder before they could be brought up.”
One day Bell, the freshman, challenged senior star David Evans, who would go on to play at Cincinnati and Colorado State, to a “dunk-off.” O’Connell said he peeked in and saw Bell dunk over Evans.
“The entire school was jammed into the small gym at West to watch,” Bell smiled. “The rest speaks for itself.”
Bell was the man as the combined Steelmen went 30-1 and lost in the state quarterfinals in 1994 and 29-4 and finished fourth in 1995. “We never tried to get him the ball, and he’d wind up with 25 points, 13 rebounds,” his former teammate, Rory O’Connell, said. “You’d say, ‘How’d he do that?’”
“I wound up an All-American, and I was on Oprah with Usher, Kevin Garnett and Venus Williams,” Bell recalled. “Just imagine.
“O’C (Mike O’Connell) and (assistants Mike Lutz and Bob Koskosky) believed in me. I truly appreciate them giving me that opportunity.”
As good as Bell was on the court, many contend he chose the wrong sport. He was a beast on a football field. O’Connell said, “Gary told me tonight, ‘Coach, you were right. You told me told me I should have been a football player.’
“Really, he’s only 6-21/2. If he had four more inches, he probably would still be in the NBA.”
Bell said he hopes to visit Joliet sometime soon to run a kids’ summer program. “I want to help kids here who do not think they can do more,” he said.
Ed Spiezio: Spiezio has two World Series championship rings from his time with the St. Louis Cardinals and his son, Scott, earned rings with the Angels and Cardinals.
“As a college hitter, Eddie was the greatest I ever saw and had a chance to coach,” said Gordie Gillespie, who coached Spiezio at Lewis.
“Ed’s humility, that’s what stands out,” said former University of St. Francis basketball coach Pat Sullivan, a neighborhood friend of Spiezio’s and teammate at Lewis. “He would have been out playing and probably hit three or four homers that day, but he wouldn’t say anything unless you asked him.”
Former USF coach Tony Delgado shared the left side of the infield with Spiezio at Lewis and wanted to set the record straight.
“They usually say I played alongside Eddie,” he said. “But the truth is, he played alongside me.
“He and I went on a home run-hitting binge when we played a game at Wheaton College. He hit two over the fence, the road and on the rooftop. I dropped one over the 300-foot fence in left, the only one I ever hit. But that’s the day Eddie and I went on our binge.”
“My dad’s dream was that his kid would play in the major leagues, and for some reason I felt I could do it,” Spiezio said. “If you stay dedicated and run into coaches like Gordie Gillespie, it can happen. Being around a winning person like Gordie was really big for me.
“Joliet always has had lots of really, really good players and playing with them helped me a lot, too.”