Pass It On is a new, bi-weekly peek inside the heart and mind of Francis Pass…
My granddaughter, Holly, played softball for the Herrin Tigers.
And I tell ya... those girls blew me away. I was shocked at how fast they could whiz in some of those pitches.
The Tigers always seem to have not just one, but several phenomenal pitchers. That didn’t happen by accident. It happened because they had a great coach by the name of Bruce Jilek.
Now, I didn’t know Coach Jilek personally. But, in some ways, I did.
I knew him by the way he walked on the field. I knew him from watching how his girls played. I knew him by how he coached from the dugout.
Bruce Jilek was a great coach. Eighteen conference championships. Nineteen regional titles. And eight appearances in the state tournament.
His softball teams put Herrin on the map.
And from what I’ve been told, he set the bar pretty high.
If memory serves, Coach Jilek would require his pitchers to show up at the high school at 6 o’clock in the morning... and they’d have to get one-hundred pitches in before school started.
He was a magnet to young female pitchers who wanted to learn how to throw the ball fast and accurately.
He had their respect. He trained them. They responded to his coaching by playing the game the way he taught ‘em. There was never any lollygagging. If someone didn’t play hard, she didn’t play.
That’s how he developed so many magnificent pitchers. Including Kerri Blaylock, who went on to coach women’s softball at SIU for 22 years.
I remember listening to interviews with Coach Jilek on the radio. Mike Murphy would ask, “What do you think of the team you’re gonna play next week?”
And coach would say something like, “Well, what I think is, were gonna show up. And if they show up, we’re gonna play em.”
I liked that.
Bruce was a teacher at the Herrin High School, where my brother Mike also taught for many years. Mike always said that Coach was a cut of his own.
I perceived Coach Jilek to be an inspiring and motivating individual. I saw in the faces of his players... including my granddaughter.
I regret not getting to know him.
But one thing I do know... his presence on the field will be forever missed.
We lost Bruce Jilek on June 10th of this year.
Thanks, Coach. You truly were a cut of your own.
Be well. Stay well. Thanks for readin’...
P.S. – According to his obituary, Bruce Jilek’s teams won 539 games and only lost 102. That’s an 84-point winning percentage. Rest easy, Coach. You did good.