HISTORY  OF  MT. PULASKI
HILLTOPPER  BASKETBALL

by 

Tim Deibert

 

 

     Mount Pulaski High School fielded its first high school basketball team during the 1912-1913 season.  That season was the beginning that has led to more than 1400 high school victories for one of the most respected basketball programs in the state of Illinois . 

     Mt. Pulaski has long been known for its caliber of competition it played as well as the outstanding coaches that have coached at Mt. Pulaski .

     The first team of note was the 1922- 23 team coached by Earl Beebe. 

     The 1922-23 team won the district and regional titles, losing to eventual state champ Villa Grove.  This is the only year in IHSA history that only four teams advanced to state.  This Mt. Pulaski team made it to the final eight teams. 

     In 1926 Kenneth Conrey came and led the Hilltoppers to a 68-25 record over the next four years. 

     In 1930 George Dertinger came to Mt. Pulaski from the University of Illinois and inaugurated the idea of playing “suicide schedules”.  Coach Dertinger won several district and regional titles while posting an amazing 96-23 record during his five year stay on the Hilltop.

     Coach Dolph Stanley, a charter member of the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame, came to Mt. Pulaski in 1935 and posted a 60-18 record over 3 years.

     The 1936 team coached by Dolph  placed fourth in the state.  This team reached the Sweet Sixteen by defeating rival Lincoln 32-17.  The team’s record was 26-7 overall, against some of the state’s best teams.  Stanley later won a state championship at Taylorville and retired with over 800 victories. 

     Leroy Halberg then came for four years, followed by Virgil Fletcher, another charter member of the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame. Virgil left Mt. Pulaski after one year where he posted a 19-11 record and later coached at Collinsville , retiring with over 700 victories.

     Arthur Yates coached one year before Carroll Wood came to Mt. Pulaski and had six very good years.  His 1947 Hilltoppers lost to Decatur in the Sectional finals in a heartbreaking loss, barely missing a Sweet Sixteen berth in Champaign .

     After Wood left, Frank Jones, James Moore, Loren Dittus, Harry Manes, and James Koch were some of the coaches who continued the winning tradition of Mt. Pulaski Basketball.

     In 1964 Ed Butkovich came to Mt. Pulaski from Bath High School .  Coach Butkovich started his career at Mt. Pulaski with a regional title in 1965, defeating rival Clinton .  Mt. Pulaski lost to defending state champion Pekin in the Peoria sectional.  This was Mt. Pulaski ’s first regional title since 1949.  Mt. Pulaski next won the regional in 1973 and placed second in the sectional. 

     In the summer of 1974, Mt. Pulaski consolidated with Elkhart High School .  In the 1974-75 season Mt. Pulaski posted a fine 25-2 record and won the regional but lost on a last second shot in the sectional.

     There would be no stopping Mt. Pulaski the following year.  The Hilltoppers won the Class ‘A’ State Championship defeating Rova in the title game.  Mt. Pulaski upset the undefeated and then number one ranked team in the state, Eldorado, 76-66 in the quarterfinals.  In the semifinals they beat another undefeated team, Buda Western to advance to the championship game.  Jeff Clements scored the winning basket against Rova to give the Hilltoppers  the State Championship Title.  Other starters on the title team were Jeff Anderson, David Welch, Brad Gibbs, and David Thompson with sixth man, Scott Moore.  This season marks the 30th Anniversary of that magical year.

     With three starters coming back, Mt. Pulaski made a return trip to Champaign in 1977, placing fourth in the State.                                                        

               1976 Class ‘A’ State Championship Team

 

      The 1978 team reached the Millikin Super-Sectional, losing to Sullivan.  In the regional title that year, Mt. Pulaski , led by senior Jeff Clements, defeated Riverton the number one ranked team in the state, 91-65.  Clements finished his career in 1978 with 3 state tournament appearances where he scored 179 points and 2212 points for his career, a school record. 

     Mt. Pulaski returned to the Elite Eight in 1980, losing a heartbreaker to Oakawville 59-57 in the quarterfinals. 

     Mt. Pulaski almost won the State Title again in 1984, finishing second, losing to McLeansboro 57-50, the undefeated State Champ.  Mt. Pulaski thrilled the spectators at the Assembly Hall during the 1984 State Semi-finals when they defeated tournament favorite Chicago St. Mel 76-74.  This game, with the advent of cable television, was seen in all 50 states and in over 150 countries.  The starters on that 1984 team were Steven Hayes, Deron Powell, Roger Cook, Rick Edwards, and Scott Olden.

     The 1985 team again reached the Sweet Sixteen before losing to eventual State runner-up Chrisman in the Decatur Super-Sectional.

     Coach Ed Butkovich retired after the 1996 season with an outstanding 558-312 record on the hilltop and an overall record of 617-385.  Former Illini center Bill Rucks replaced the legendary coach and guided the toppers from 1997 to 2002 winning 83 games and back-to-back regional titles in 1998-99.  The Hilltoppers are currently coached by Jim Jumper, who is in his fourth season at the helm and has averaged over 20 wins a season in his first three years. 

     Mt. Pulaski has won numerous conference and invitational tournament titles as well as 29 district and regional titles.  Seven sectional titles have been won, along with nine runner-up finishes.  Mt. Pulaski has advanced to the Sweet Sixteen seven times and reaching the State Tournament in Champaign five times. 

     Mt. Pulaski has had its share of fine individual players, some who were noted for their rebounding, great passing, or their exciting or unique style of play, but they are too numerous to mention.  Those who have scored over 1,000 points include Harry Hahn, Mike Kelly, Gary Durchholz, David Welch, Jeff Clements, Deron Powell, Brad Beggs, Danny Smith, Rex Tschantz, Jarrod Cowan, Clayton Brown, and Justin Anderson.

     Again, over 1400 victories could not be achieved without fine coaches and fan support.  Mt. Pulaski and the surrounding communities have always supported their team.  One of its greatest fans and long-time scorekeepers, Gene Manes, was inducted into the Illinois Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame many years ago.  Just last year, long-time scorekeeper, Mary Stewart was also inducted.  Coaches Dolph Stanley, Virgil Fletcher, and Ed Butkovich, along with the 1976 team are all members of the Hall of Fame. 

     As you can see, Mt. Pulaski Basketball is one of great tradition and respect.  It has the ingredients of a successful program – fine players, fans, and coaches all working together to keep this tradition going.