Prep sports: First Champions Ball set for Feb. 23

• Lisa Coole, Jerry Latin, back-to-back West state basketball champions, 1974 East football team and Genelle Samuelson to be inducted into Hall of Fame

By Matt Nestor
Prep Sports Reporter

For the first time ever, the Rockford Public Schools, in conjunction with the Rockford Sports Coalition, will induct former players, coaches and teams into a Rockford Public Schools Hall of Fame as a centerpiece to their first Champions Ball Feb. 23.

Several events are planned as part of the ball. The Rockford Auburn against Rockford East game will be featured at Rock Valley College that day at 2 p.m., with dinner and dancing followed at 7 p.m. at the Radison Conference Center.

At the Radison, there will be a presentation by Ben Holmstrom, CEO of Ragnar Benson and a former All-State basketball player at Rockford Guilford, as well as a silent auction. The Hall of Fame presentation and displays featuring their accomplishments will also be included.

We’ve never honored or inducted any athletes, coaches or anyone involved with athletics ever since 1902 into a Hall of Fame,” Director of Athletics for the schools Mat Parker said. “And Rockford Public Schools has such a rich history of successful individuals and sports teams. So, we thought that was something that was long overdue that we could incorporate into a fund-raiser and have a wonderful night and bring people back.”

Two individuals, two teams, one coach and one contributor are being inducted into the first Hall class, which was voted on by a committee of former athletes, coaches and local media members.

Lisa Coole is one former star being inducted. She was a five-time state champion swimmer at Guilford.

She will be joined by Jerry Latin, former East star. Latin played football and basketball at East before moving on to Northern Illinois University and then playing four years in the NFL.

The back-to-back state champion Rockford West High School basketball team will also go in as a team, with several members coming back for the ball. They will be joined by their legendary coach, Alex Saudargas, who is being inducted separately.

The 1974 East football team, which won the 4A state championship and is considered by many to be the best team ever in the area, will go in.

Lastly, longtime coach and teacher Genelle Samuelson will go in for all of her contributions she made to the area schools and athletic programs, especially at the middle school level.

With this, what is neat about it is you get to know more about the teams and the stories and who these people were,” Parker said. “I think it’s not only great to honor them, but for our younger generation to hear and understand that we have successful teams now and help build successful teams across the board.”

It is all part of a renaissance for the coalition, which had decided to cease giving their donation under the previous administration. But they are back full force as a fund-raising machine, starting with the showing of the movie Undefeated last year and continuing with this event.

There is not only a lot of support locally for the Champions Ball, but people are coming back to support it, which is fantastic,” said Parker, who also serves on the board for the coalition as the school district’s athletic director. “You want to have one event to build your base. You want to have one big one that is a good event and you can have yearly.”

It is all a part of their plan to re-engage the public with the schools, not only from an athletic standpoint, but also in academics and community support.

We really want to build trust with the community across the board, shed a new light on what the public schools have to offer, which is a hard reputation to change after two decades,” Parker said. “We look at athletics as the front porch of our house. It’s not the most important part of the home, but it’s what everybody sees.”

Tickets for the event are $50 per person or $350 for a table of eight. They can be purchased by calling (815) 489-7264, ext. 16362. You can get more information at

From the Feb. 6-12, 2013, issue

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