Area coaches remember Hall of Famer Shirley

Gary Shirley

KINMUNDY — From competitors to proteges, the South Central community is still recovering from the death of Hall of Fame coach Gary Shirley last week.

Shirley, a long-time coach at Kinmundy-Alma and later South Central, made his mark on the community through his coaching and his teaching.

But former assistant and current South Central basketball coach and athletic director Rick Simmons knows he'll be remembered for more than his IBCA Hall of Fame career.

"Gary was just an unbelievable person, you can talk about how great a coach he was, but he was a great person," Simmons said. "That's what people remember him for. Gary, of course, was a mentor to me as a coach and a teacher, and he was an excellent friend. I'll remember him for all the little things he taught me, about basketball, about life, how to handle situations."

Shirley started his coaching career at Kinmundy-Alma, turning around a 1-22 team in 1982-83 to a regional winner three years later, going 20-8 in 1985-86. They'd repeat as regional champs the next season, winning 20 games each year until a tough 3-21 year in 1988-89.

Then Kinmundy-Alma merged with Farina-LaGrove, forming South Central High School. Shirley was tabbed to be the head coach, finishing with a record at .500 or better in all but one of 20 seasons at the helm of the Cougars. They'd win eight regional titles and a sectional title in 1998, finishing with a high-water mark of 28-4.

Former Dieterich coach and Effingham principal Mike McCollum understands now that Shirley was excellent at making sure his kids got their shots, when the schools were conference rivals in the Midland Trail Conference before both moving to the National Trail Conference.

"He was probably before his time," McCollum said. "He ran an offense that a lot of coaches had trouble scouting. He called it Indiana, it was a continuity offense, he had five kids in motion all the time.

"Those kids were trained such that they'd run that thing over until they got a shot. All of them could score. Every kid knew his role."

That success led to a career record of 520-200, according to the IHSA's website, winning his 500th game on Dec. 20, 2008.

Despite being rivals, McCollum and Shirley struck up a friendship and would even go and look at players together. McCollum said his impact won't be forgotten.

"Gary and I became good friends," he said. "We became good friends, we'd go on scouting trips together before there were video cameras. When you talked about South Central, to this day, the old officials and coaches, people outside of the area, two names come to mind: one is Gary Shirley and one is (baseball coach) Curt Jones. Both have been instrumental.

"Gary was always doing something for the community of Kinmundy, and Curt does now too. Everywhere they went, they wore the South Central colors, they bragged about the colors."

Simmons was a coach with Shirley for about 20 years, with Shirley also having a brief stint as baseball coach before Jones took over the program.

It's a loss the community won't soon get over, Simmons said.

"His impact on the community is pretty profound," he said. "There's a lot of people trying to deal with the fact he's gone. Anyone who ever dealt with him, met him, were surely impacted by his knowledge, his compassion. He was probably a better teacher, his students would tell you how fun loving he was."

No funeral arrangements or visitations were set up by the family. 

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