Crim: Reminiscing on 2023 reveals amazing conversations, heart-felt stories being told

YIR Crim columns

QUINCY — As the calendar flips to another year with Muddy River Sports, it’s time to look back to some of my favorite columns from 2023.

I must note it does not include the story on Bob Baucom and his 50 seasons as a basketball referee, only because it appeared just days ago. However, the time spent listening to and swapping stories with Bob was the most enjoyable, work-related 90 minutes of the year.

Not all the columns are about sports. One appeared on Muddy River News and the final selection is a deeply personal one. Readers indulged me then and I hope they do so again.

The Meister family — from left to right, Lincoln, Angie, Laynie, Lilly and Kurt — are bound by basketball with the three kids following in the footsteps of their parents as student-athletes. | Submitted photo

Kurt Meister has been in a lot of pressure situations on the basketball court.

He helped Hamilton High School reach the Illinois Class A state tournament in 1993 and 1994. He went on to South Dakota State University and played in the NCAA Division II national tourney three times.

None of that fully prepared him to be Dad to three elite players, however.

Kurt and Angie Meister’s son, Lincoln, was a junior last season on a Minnesota-Duluth team which advanced to the Division II tourney for the second straight year. Their oldest daughter, Lilly, who received her first scholarship offer as an eighth grader, was a freshman on an Indiana team that won the Big Ten regular-season title and spent much of the season ranked No. 2 in the country.

Their youngest daughter, Laynie, finished her second season on the varsity as a sophomore at John Marshall, a 1,700-student high school in Rochester, Minn., where both her mother and siblings starred.

“Playing is easy,” Kurt Meister explained. “Watching the kids’ games is the worst experience I’ve had in basketball. I get nervous as hell. … On the other hand, what the kids have done is unbelievable.”

Once you read about the Meister family, you’ll understand why.

Crim: Family’s passion for basketball is ‘awesome’ experience for Hamilton native Kurt Meister – Muddy River Sports

The 1983 Quincy Notre Dame football team finished 8-2 and reached the playoffs. | Photo courtesy QND

The Quincy Notre Dame football program had slipped into mediocrity when Bob Winstead arrived as head coach in 1983. The Raiders had lost 19 of their previous 23 games dating to the tail end of the 1980 campaign, and a season-opening loss to Mount Pleasant (Iowa) when they failed to advance the ball to midfield seemed to suggest more of the same.

Then something clicked. QND won eight consecutive games behind the running of electric tailback Eric Kuhlman and a punishing, unrelenting defense that posted five shutouts in a six-game stretch and allowed only 66 points all season.

The Raiders won the inaugural Greater Midwestern Conference title and earned their first playoff berth — back when reaching the postseason was much tougher than it is today — since 1974.

The magical run included a scintillating 26-20 overtime victory over undefeated and second-ranked Pittsfield before a jam-packed crowd at Flinn Stadium in the season’s eighth week.

The season ended in the opening round of the playoffs, however, when Pittsfield avenged the earlier loss with a 3-0 victory in monsoon conditions at Flinn Stadium. Would a dry, fast turf have produced a second epic clash and another QND victory? We’ll never know.

What we do know, however, is that for eight weeks 40 years ago, the Raiders played an exciting brand of football that made the sport relevant again in Quincy.

Crim: Four decades later, QND football team’s remarkable turnaround remains impressive – Muddy River Sports

The Hull family — from left to right, Charlie, John and Jack Hull — run Central Illinois Sports, which livestreams video and audio of high school and junior high sporting events through via their YouTube channel. | Submitted photo

Jack Hull and his sons, Charlie and John, have helped reshape the local sports broadcasting landscape since the creation of Central Illinois Sports in 2018.

With many radio stations reducing or eliminating local broadcasts altogether, CIS stepped in to fill the void. Starting from scratch without any subscribers, it streams audio and video content from local sporting events via YouTube. The broadcast team works 150 dates or more annually.

Timing is everything, and Central Illinois Sports saw its number of subscribers soar with the outbreak of COVID-19, when in-person attendance was limited. For many, the only way to watch games was to go online. CIS now boasts more than 4,000 subscribers, who pay no fee to watch. Advertising revenue covers the cost of talent and broadcasts.

“It’s about highlighting the kids,” Charlie said. “It’s not really about what we do. There’s nothing fancy with what we do. Get a camera and a microphone, keep it simple and call the game.”

They do it well, and viewers are thankful for the opportunities to watch and listen.

One Hull of an idea: Morphing radio broadcasts into YouTube channel allows Central Illinois Sports to highlight student-athletes with broader reach

John Wood Community College assistant men’s basketball coach Pat Rafferty, who has been coaching nearly a half-century, continues to provide insight for JWCC coach Brad Hoyt and the Trail Blazers. | Matt Schuckman photo

Pat Rafferty is the epitome of a basketball lifer.

Despite being in his 70s, he enjoys coaching too much to call it quits. Spend his winters in a recliner while collecting retirement checks? Nah. He’d rather be in a gymnasium trying to help players become the best they can be.

Beginning in 1973, Rafferty spent 34 years as a high school head boys coach at six different schools, compiling more than 500 victories and earning induction into the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame. He also had a stint as a women’s assistant coach at John Wood Community College.

Since the 2021-22 season, Rafferty has assisted JWCC men’s coach Brad Hoyt. He sees himself as “another set of eyes” both in practice and during games, drawing upon his decades of experience to aid coaches and players.

“He brings history, but more importantly he brings knowledge and personality the players respect,” Hoyt said. “He has been in a lot of situations. His mentorship has benefited me and the program.”

For Rafferty, it’s what he loves to do. “It’s like Christmastime for me,” he said.

Crim: Coaching, teaching basketball keeps JWCC assistant Rafferty in ‘his happy place’

Quincy Gems outfielder Jaison Andujar signs autographs prior to a game last summer. | Samantha Carmean photo

Following in his father’s footsteps to play professional baseball has been Jaison Andujar’s goal since he was a boy growing up in the Dominican Republic, where his dad, the late Joaquin Andujar, is still revered. The dream still burns bright at age 23.

It has not been a smooth journey.

He bounced between his homeland and New York, grieved his father’s death as a high schooler, spent time at a college in Texas and, finally, reached Culver-Stockton College. An outfielder, he had stints with the Quincy Gems in each of the last two summers and became a fan favorite because of his powerful bat and arm and magnetic personality.

“I think the expectations for Jaison have always been high, coming from the family he comes from,” Culver-Stockon and Gems coach Brad Gyorkos said. “I think he has the talent to play at the next level. He just needs to start putting it together. Those things don’t come for free.”

I think you’ll agree Jaison Andujar is someone to root for.

Baseball in his blood: Gems’ Andujar uses lessons from big-league father in pursuit of his own professional career

Don Crim and his student, Damien, went through first, second and third grades together at Baldwin School. | Photo courtesy of Don Crim

In retirement after four decades in the newspaper business, I stumbled into a job as a paraeducator at Thomas S. Baldwin Elementary School in Quincy. While I had no idea what to expect at first, it proved to be a rewarding four years, making it difficult to walk away in June because of family obligations.

My job was to provide one-on-one academic support in a regular classroom. I was assigned to the same student my first three years, and Damien and I went through first, second and third grades together and became buddies. After he moved, I returned to second grade for my final year to help two other students.

I got to know and work with all the kids in each of those classrooms when they had questions, needed encouragement or were having trouble focusing on the tasks at hand. I listened to their stories, tried to understand their video game terminology, and engaged with them on the playground during recess.

They taught me patience and routinely brought smiles to my face because Art Linkletter was right: Kids can do and say the darndest things.

I worked alongside some remarkable teachers and administrators who taught me how to help students learn, and how to console them when things weren’t going well at home. I also got to walk the same hallways as three of my granddaughters, making the experience even more special.

I miss it, but those four years at Baldwin will forever be etched in my memory.

Crim: Four years as paraeducator rewarding experience for this old newspaper guy

Charles and Darlene Crim are pictured with their son, Don, two of their three grandchildren, Nathan Crim and Jessica Dedert, and six of their eight great-grandchildren. | Photo courtesy of Don Crim

Sometimes, writing about sports seems inconsequential.

I reached that conclusion in early October when most of my family gathered at the Deer Park Pavilion on the grounds of the Illinois Veterans Home to spend time with my mom and dad, who were residents there.

They spent a few hours enjoying the sunshine, talking with grandkids, watching great-grandkids interact with the animals roaming beyond the fence, eating ice cream, taking photos, laughing and re-telling stories.

Suddenly, Missouri coughing up a big lead at home against LSU and the baseball Cardinals finishing with a losing record for the first time in 15 seasons didn’t seem that important.

My parents’ health had been declining, especially Mom’s. She had been battling a brain tumor that affected her memory and ability to communicate, frustrating her. The steroids she took to combat the tumor led to brittle bones, compression fractures and a wheelchair.

For a short while, though, those things were forgotten.

“If there’s no tomorrow, it will be fine after a day like this,” Mom told my oldest daughter.

Mom passed away 52 days later. I can still see her smile on that sunny Sunday afternoon, surrounded by the family she adored. While I know she’s in a better place now, free of pain, I miss the lady who always thought her firstborn was perfect.

Crim: Day spent with multiple generations of loved ones trumps anything sports can provide

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