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Go figure! It has to be the genes! Merk Kyger, the successful one-time Gridley High School coach, is retired in West Chicago. Kyger and his wife, Leah Faye, have a daughter, Kary, who is 5-feet-10 tall.

Leo Vitale, the equally successful one-time Mahomet-Seymour High School coach, is retired in St. Charles.

Vitale and his wife, Betty, have a son, Mark, who is 6-5 and was a quarterback at Purdue.

Kary is married to Mark and the union has produced two daughters and a son. One daughter is a volleyball scholarship player at Purdue; the other is a volleyball scholarship player at Iowa.

The son is 6-3, still growing, and a freshman at St. Charles East High School.

The Kygers have two other daughters. Both are married. One lives in Wisconsin and the other in Colorado.

And to prove it is a small world, Ed Ramme, a former Streator High School all-around athlete, was in undergraduate school at Northern Illinois with Kyger. Ramme was coaching at West Chicago when Kyger arrived.

Ramme then moved to California where he coached before retiring.

Kyger coached all sports at Gridley High School from 1950-55. He also was athletic director. His prize pupil was Wilbur Hany, arguably the finest all-around athlete in school history.

"I owe a lot to Gridley," said Kyger. "That was my first job and the people took us in. We still keep in touch, especially with Leonard Rich and Bill Froelich.

"Leonard phoned me one day about 8 in the morning. I asked him what he was doing up so early. He told me that he always got up at 5:30 and did some gardening.

"We had a lot of nice kids at Gridley. And the parents were just as nice. You could ask those kids to do anything and they would do it. It is not like that today."

Kyger recalled working one summer at the Gridley Cheese Factory, a very demanding physical job. He also worked a summer for Funk's Seed Company where he was in charge of detasseling crews.

After leaving Gridley, Kyger coached a year at Hanover High School.

"I was in summer school at Northern working on my master's when I met a junior high school principal from West Chicago," said Kyger. "He asked me if I would be interested in a job at West Chicago.

"I told him I would be and he arranged an interview with the superintendent and I got the job. Ed Ramme was the basketball coach when I got there.

"Ed and I played football together at Northern. We were both running backs.

"We didn't have face masks in those days and during my sophomore year, I had my cheek bone broken in three places in practice. That was the end of football for me, but I still competed in basketball and track.

"Ed and I lived in the old G.E. barracks at Northern. He had a part-time job delivering milk to our barracks. You could hear him coming along at 5 a.m. whistling, singing, and those milk bottles ratting against each other."

Kyger received his undergraduate degree in 1950 and went to Gridley.

Kyger enjoys the West Chicago community which is located in the Fox River Valley, as is St. Charles.

"I got out of basketball coaching in 1971 and retired in 1988. We stay here the year-round. If I want to get warm, I don't go south; I just turn up the thermostat," said Kyger. "There is so much to do around here; we are always busy."

Hank's son

The Jamelle Cornley, who is leading the Penn State basketball team in scoring, is the son of Hank Cornley, who was an outstanding player at Illinois State in the early 1980s.

Jamelle is a freshman at Penn State. Hopefully, he has better hands than Hank, who had trouble with a pass even if it was rolled to him.

Jim Barnhart is the retired sports editor of The Pantagraph. Contact him at

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