If Chuck Schramm is really planning to leave the Park District of Highland Park, a huge chunk of fun and good times will leave along with him! The good news is that he will continue as HP’s sophomore golf coach, and with his “Little Dribblers” basketball program. Overall, nobody in Highland Park has coached more years, or in more sports, than Chuck Schramm. And he still finds the time to continue as the starter at Deerpath Golf Club in Lake Forest. (He feels that job is “like going to Starbuck’s with your best friends” ).
For most of the last 60 years, Chuck Schramm has BEEN the Park District, working on baseball, basketball, camps and clinics over the years. He has been loved by players, coaches and families for his ability to make every game, in every sport, fun and exciting. He actually started their first sports camp, and ran the basketball program at HP for all ages.
I remember him doubling as both referee and announcer, in our gym class basketball games, describing the action as if it were a college playoff game! During that time he was varsity head coach of Highland Park High School’s Giants basketball team. One of those years he led the Giants to the biggest upset in Suburban League history, with a stunning defeat of the #3 Waukegan Bulldogs in the 1969 Regional tournament.
Chuck’s Park District history goes back even further, (when it just had a boxing ring, and ping pong), before he started the baseball and basketball programs. “We started the baseball program with 12 little league teams, plus 6 pony league teams, and it was about $20 per kid, for a whole season, because we convinced all the Highland Park businesses to sponsor teams”, he points out. “At one point we had games going on at 8 different fields at Sunset Park, when we added the ‘the parent-and-tot’ program. And the biggest crowd to ever pack the Karger Center in HP was our prep league championship”, the Coach adds.
One 11-year old little leaguer had not made contact all season long, and somehow got the game-winning, walk-off hit in the final playoff game that year. But my favorite basketball memory was the girl who made her first and only basket of the year, and then after the game, asked me to pose for a picture with her!”
In those days, a typical summer day for Coach Schramm began at Sam, working over the baseball diamonds, then sports camp at 9 till noon, 2:30 little league, and then a whole evening of ballgames for the upper ages. 80-hour weeks were common, and that’s why everybody remembers Chuck Schramm either on the field or on the court.
He worked with two legends, Bruno Somenzi, and Earl Hodgen, as well as directors like Howard Kopp, Dar Inman, Carl Hartmann, Ted Kovadas, Dave Fritz and Connie Newport. He actually worked with 9 different directors, reporting to 8 of them. ”The Park District was most successful when they worked as a team, spreading the power and duties evenly, and monitoring each other, rather than having one person giving the orders,” Chuck explains. ”The Park District helped me put all 4 kids through college, which I’m certainly grateful for.” His favorite PD employee of all, however, was the smiling receptionist greeter, Marcia Schramm, his lovely wife.
“When the time came to name the new Park District location on Park Ave., they had a contest, and my name was the winning entry,” Chuck recalls.” Even though they ended up calling it the ‘Recreation Center of Highland Park’, I was still happy I won! They did name me the Chamber’s ‘Young Man of the Year’, and gave me the key to the city instead!”
My favorite Schramm Park District event was the first day of T-Ball, where -the tiny 5-year olds would gather around the towering Coach, and Chuck would say, “OK! Everybody RUN out to second base!” And the kids would scamper in all different directions, having no clue yet where second base might be.
Fun has always been the goal with his “Little Dribblers” program, and to introduce a love of the game right from the beginning. “I have always tried to instill a love for the game first, and then let the kids take it in their own direction…whether it’s just playing casually with their friends, or varsity competition and in some cases, on to play professional ball”, Schramm points out.
1 6″ softball in Highland Park has never been the same without him, starting with his fine work at shortstop for Santi’s Cafe in the SOs and 60s, then later running the entire program, from booking the umpires, to umpiring himself, hiring the field crew, and even hiring my dad to be an umpire, when his own Wenk softball team finally got too old to play, and he found that umpiring was a way to stay on the field.
When I graduated from HPHS in 1971, I guest-wrote a column for Chuck Wenk on “the greatest thing about my four years at HPHS”…and the answer was Chuck Schramm! He made every sport fun in gym, and taught us how to play tennis, badminton, football, softball, and basketball, and everybody felt like they were the star.
Chuck mentioned wanting to thank Bruno Somenzi (posthumously), and Ross Lewis, Chris Faggi, Dar Inman, Al Danakas, Paul Harris, and so many other Park District personalities who loved working with the Coach. “The hardest worker of all, though, was the tireless ‘Dimmer’ Cortesi’”, Schramm quickly added.
Fellow HPHS Hall-of-Farner Rick Piacenza, when contacted about Schramm’s retirement, added, “Chuck doesn’t retire from work. He simply transitions from one situation to a new one. He’ll reappear somewhere, doing what he loves, to teach kids life lessons and values through sports. The hundreds of times I’ve been out in public with Chuck, dozens of former students will engage him on the street with the same conversation starter: ‘Today, I’m a successful lawyer, (or teacher, coach, corporate executive, tradesman, college student) because of what I learned from you!’ They love to pay homage to Chuck and Chuck loves the feedback and attention!”
He’s like an 80-year old Brett Favre…always retiring, and always coming back! But to most Highland Parkers who have played any sport in this town, the first mention of the HP Park District brings to mind the most important name ever to be associated with that fine organization; Chuck Schramm. The smiling, talented Coach has made sports into true fun for thousands of Highland Parkers, and it’s time we thanked him for teaching us a love of sports that will last the rest of our lives. Thanks Coach! (As soon as my grandkids are ready for T-Ball, you better be out there on the field, to get them started the right way!)
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