EUREKA - Craig Gerdes has attained yet another milestone in his long and illustrious career.
On Dec. 12, the Eureka Middle School basketball coach netted victory No. 1,000 with a 29-14 win on the eighth-grade level over Metamora St. Mary's, fittingly enough at home.
Chalk up the accomplishment to a combination of good playes and quality coaching.
"We've had a lot of good talent and a lot of good, athletic kids," said Gerdes, who pilots both EMS teams. "A lot of it is 35 years. It's going to take time to accomplish something like that. The tradition has helped. Once the tradition was built, it helped the teams to build on that tradition."
Gerdes still remembers his very first win, which came on Nov. 18, 1971, six months after his graduation from Eureka College. Both his teams whipped Woodland at the newly christened school.
"The thing I remember most about it is after the game, I felt, 'Boy, this is easy. There's nothing to it,'" Gerdes recollected. "Naturally, I was as scared as I've ever been. The next night, we lost on the seventh-grade level to Lexington. I thought it wasn't as easy."
His biggest win occurred in 1986 when his seventh-graders won the Illinois Elementary School Association Class AA state championship after a 36-25 win over Pekin Broadmoor at Lewistown High School.
He has guided five teams to the state tournament, most recently his current eighth-graders, who won all 19 regular-season games and finished with a 23-1 record on the younger level.
Gerdes, a native of Washburn, graduated from Lowpoint-Washburn High School, before moving onto Eureka College. There, he became the fourth Red Devil to reach 1,000 career points. He finished with 1,150.
Besides coaching basketball, Gerdes also directed the baseball and track teams and served as athletic director. He taught seventh-grade language until retiring after the end of the 2003-04 school year.
Gerdes gave up his baseball, track and A.D. duties, but elected to stay with hoops.
"Basketball was the thing I wanted to stay with the most," Gerdes stated. "In the fall, spring and summer, you can find things to do. In the winter time, there's not as much to do to keep yourself active.
"The excitement of the crowd on the night of a game is more thrilling maybe than a baseball game or track meet," Gerdes added. "It brings out that adrenaline."
No longer having to put in an eight-hour teaching day has brought him an extra boost of energy.
"I do immensely enjoy it. I feel relieved," said Gerdes. "I feel like I have more enthusiasm now that I'm not teaching any more. I can come fresh at 6:15 in the morning, go home and relax and be back at 3:20 for afternoon practice. I enjoy watching the kids develop from game to game."
Even though Gerdes is a seasoned veteran, the butterflies still crop up on occasion.
"I get especially nervous and excited about the very first game," admitted Gerdes. "Other than the first game, I only get nervous about a big game, a (Woodford) county final, a regional, a sectional. That hasn't changed in 35 years."
What also has not changed is the support of his wife of 35 years, Karen, who is a fourth-grade teacher at Davenport Elementary School. The former Karen Phillips is also a Washburn native and was one year behind Gerdes in school.
"If I've coached in the vicinity of 1,300 games and won 1,000, she's probably been at 90 percent of them," estimated Gerdes. "She's very supportive. Very seldom has she missed a home game. If it's not a long drive, she gets to most of the away games. It's nice to be able to come home and you're not going to get second-guessed by somebody. You know you have somebody there who knows how you feel and will back you to the hilt."
One day, he expects to review his career and be amazed at getting all the way up to 1,000 wins.
"I'm sure I'll look at it and say, 'That's an awful nice accomplishment,'" said Gerdes, a 2003 inductee into the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame. "I've always been a person who looks at the present and future more than the past. I look at the present and the next game."
So, what is his future? How much longer does Gerdes want to patrol the EMS bench?
"I'm at that age and number of years, it's a yearly decision," Gerdes answered. "It comes down to when I lose my enthusiasm and it tires me out too much and I'm not able to give that 100 percent to the kids in practice and games. At this time, I feel like I have a lot of energy. I feel I'm raring to go."