The scoreboard was unused and unlit to keep track of goals at a Feb. 3 practice on the outdoor ice rink at the Weinberg Family Recreation Center in Glencoe.
And? At first, members of the Glencoe Bantam All-Stars’ 1974-1975 state championship season youth ice hockey team kept score.
Then, after a few falls on slippery ice, including a fall on the back of Glencoe All-Stars coach Jim Baird of Glencoe that left icy dust on the back of his red jersey, the hockey players’ story was knowing that they were off the mainland for a magic spell before perhaps another rude awakening.
Just the fact that they were here, in Glencoe, at these satellite coordinates, on this piece of North Shore ice, was a score in itself.
These former championship players, now in their 60s, played ice hockey at a 50-year reunion to pay tribute to their 80-plus-year-old coach Jim Baird.
Many remember growing up playing bumpy pond ice hockey at this location when the field was intentionally flooded in the winter so people could ice skate.
“We literally grew up playing here, our whole lives as little kids, as kids when it wasn’t even an artificial rink,” said Mark Chudacoff, New Trier East’s Glencoe Bantam All-Stars 1974-1975 championship season player. . High school class of 1978. “All of us grew up playing hockey in the domestic league here.”
Chudacoff went on to call the meeting an emotional moment.
Glencoe’s Jim Ginsburg, captain of the Glencoe Bantam All-Stars 1974-1975 championship season team, helped plan the 50-year reunion. Friends were recruited to play on the opposing scrimmage team. The Bantam All-Stars wore red jerseys with their youth numbers and ultimately ended up winning the game.
Ginsburg recalled when the town created the traveling hockey program as part of its initiative to build a better ice rink.
“They had different age groups,” Ginsburg said, with the Glencoe All-Stars team representing the oldest age group. “Glencoe was a small town and had a lot of teams that didn’t do well in travel hockey.”
Despite this, the team would win the 1974-75 state championship in the silver division.
“It was a strange year because we had a talented group even though the program came from a very small population,” Ginsburg added. “Some of us played hockey in New Trier in the years that followed.”
Ginsburg said the Glencoe program was combined with Winnetka a few years later.
“So to this day, our team is the only Glencoe state hockey champion,” Ginsburg said.
Seeing former teammates on Feb. 3 made Ginsburg feel like “the heart is full, life is short, life is great, it’s great to see all your long-time friends. “You can never replace the friendships you make when you are young.”
The bantam division of the Illinois Amateur Hockey Association’s AA state tournament had a bracket with teams from Highland Park, Naperville, Schaumburg, Carol Stream, Westmont, Rolling Meadows and Glenview. In 1975, the Glencoe teen team defeated a highly ranked Crestwood team on a Naperville ice rink to win the state championship.
The Glencoe All-Stars also played teams that season from Evanston, Niles, Deerfield, Winnetka, Wilmette, Skokie, Lake Forest, Northbrook and Kenosha.
Nearly 50 years later, Coach Baird posed for a team photo on the Glencoe ice with former team manager and assistant coach Bud Schwarzbach, 89, a Glencoe resident for 53 years.
Schwarzbach said of that championship season: “These guys were the wildest. “It was really a lot of fun.”
Approximately 75% of the team attended the meeting. Many recognized each other immediately or offered names as hints as they greeted each other that night as they entered the makeshift locker room.
“Oh, these guys… are you kidding me?” Baird said shortly before the team took the ice. “They’re wonderful and it’s very exciting for me.”
Looking back on the championship game, “When we won, they celebrated and I was crying like a baby…yeah, crying like a baby,” Baird said. “It was so exciting, so exciting.”
Chudacoff said Baird was the best coach the team has ever had.
“He pushed us a lot and taught us: hard work pays off and that became a motto for me.” Chudacoff also “learned from him (Baird) that quitters never win and winners never quit. I still think about this team. He never stopped thinking about it.”
All-Stars player Steven “Rosie” Rosenstein of Scottsdale, Arizona, and New Trier West High School Class of 1978 graduate, flew in to attend the reunion.
“I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” Rosie said.
The typed roster for the Bantam All-Stars team shows Rosenstein as the only player from Wilmette with another player from Winnetka. All the others were from Glencoe.
“It’s surreal, yeah, it’s surreal for all of us,” Rosenstein said of walking to center ice and recognizing faces that hadn’t been seen in decades. Hugs, fist bumps, and pats on the back brought smiles.
“Even just coming off the Dundee (highway) exit and just remembering the past,” was special, Rosenstein said. “We were kids, we got into mischief, we played hockey.”
Bantam All-Stars player Dan Larkin of Lake Barrington grew up in Glencoe, three blocks from Watts Park.
Larkin wore an adapted helmet with the original protective mask he wore as a player during the Glencoe Bantam All-Stars 1974-1975 state championship season.
What was it like getting back on the ice at Watts Glencoe with the All-Stars athletes?
“It’s fantastic,” Larkin said. “We call this the Track of Dreams.”
Karie Angell Luc is a freelance reporter for the Pioneer Press.