Prep Heroes: Armstrong-Potomac

Prep Heroes: Armstrong-Potomac

Steve Willard

ARMSTRONG – Bob Bezely started teaching and coaching in the Armstrong school district in 1957. More than a half-century later, he remains active with the district as a bus driver. His lengthy tenure means one thing: He has seen hundreds and hundreds of athletes.

"The best player I've seen at Armstrong," he said, repeating a question. "Steve Willard. "If he wanted to score, he could have averaged 30 points per game, but he enjoyed feeding his teammates.

"He was the total package, and the tougher the competition, the tougher he got."

The 6-foot Willard amassed a still-standing boys' school record of 1,998 points during his four-year career in basketball. The 1967 graduate was one of 16 athletes selected to the Chicago American's Little All-State team as a senior.

Willard, who died two days before Christmas in 2000, headlines the list of all-time top athletes from the Armstrong and Potomac high school districts.

Former teammate Rodney Parrish remembers two points Willard scored when he didn't even shoot the ball.

"Alan (Schluter) was on the high post and cut to the basket," Parrish said. "Steve threw an alley-oop, but it went in the basket."

Willard, Parrish and Schluter played alongside Bruce Owens and Ron Shafer on the winningest team in Armstrong history. The 1965-66 squad compiled a 29-2 record and finished as one of the final 32 teams in the old one-class IHSA state tournament. Armstrong, with an enrollment of 157, was beaten in the sectional finals by Urbana.

A four-year starter in basketball, Willard was used by the Trojans to bring the ball upcourt against the press.

"He was also a good defensive person and could do it all effortlessly," said Parrish, who started playing with Willard and Schluter when they were fifth-graders at Penfield Grade School. "He was a pure shooter. If the three-point line had been in existence when we played, who knows how many points he would have scored."

Willard was an efficient scorer, sinking 18 of 23 shots in a 1966 game in which he scored a season-high 43 against Catlin.

At the time of his graduation, Willard was one of the state's top 25 career scorers and ranked second in points among area athletes. He was the Trojans' top scorer all four seasons and earned All-Vermilion County first-team accolades three times.

Willard also lettered four years in baseball as a third baseman for Armstrong and one year in track.

He played basketball collegiately for two years, one at Shepherd College, in Shepherdstown, W.Va., and one at Lakeland College, in Sheboygan, Wis. He later farmed with his brother-in-law, Parker Acton.

Willard's Armstrong team followed up the 29-win campaign his junior year with 28 wins the following winter. His sophomore year, Armstrong won 17 games. There was more to the team's success than the points Willard tallied.

"He made everyone else on the team look good," said Acton, a former teammate.

Willard was one of 16 charter members in the all-time Vermilion County Hall of Fame for basketball.

Former Champaign sports writer E.W. Hesse, in a 1966 article, wrote Willard "has no peer as an all-around player in the area."

 

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Ryan Bird, 2003

Armstrong valedictorian was a three-time All-Area first-teamer in baseball and twice the Player of the Year (2002, '03). Right-hander was 35-8 in his career with 457 strikeouts in 273 innings. Offensively, batted .455 with 28 career homers (16 as senior) for teams that were 106-34 with four regional and three sectional titles. In basketball, on teams that were 65-24 his final three years, earning special mention All-Area honors as a senior.

 

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Bill Brown, 1967

Forward graduated from Potomac as the school's top career scorer (1,630 points). He was on the 16-player Chicago American Little All-State team as a senior. Led the area in scoring as a junior (25.9 average) and as a senior (26.5 average). Had the third-best three-game scoring mark for the Vermilion County tournament (77 points). Three-time team MVP in basketball. Lettered in baseball, basketball and track for four years.

 

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Tom Brown, 1970

Center broke his brother's career scoring mark at Potomac (1,642 points). Three-time team MVP in basketball. Had the fifth-best scoring mark for the Vermilion County tournament (73 points). Averaged 25.7 points as a senior and 23.6 as a junior. Lettered in baseball, basketball and track for four years.

 

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Gary Farnsworth, 1961

Potomac star was one of 16 charter picks to the all-time Vermilion County Hall of Fame for basketball. Was a two-time all-county first-teamer. As a senior, set the Vermilion County four-game scoring record (94 points), a total that now ranks seventh. Scored 1,457 points in career. Later developed into a top-notch horseshoe pitcher.

 

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Joey Frerichs, 2002

Three-time All-Area first-teamer in baseball and Player of the Year in 2001. Left-hander had 32-7 career record with 355 strikeouts in 262 innings. Batted .429 for teams that won four regional titles and 97 games. In basketball, four-year starter on A-P teams that were 92-25 and an All-Area first-teamer as a senior. Scored 1,256 points.

 

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Gina Grussing, 2002

Valedictorian was a three-time All-Area first-teamer in basketball who scored an Armstrong-Potomac-record 2,042 points. Averaged 21.4 points as a sophomore, 20.3 as a junior and 22.4 as a senior. Also a four-year letter winner in volleyball and was twice an All-Area special mention pick. Had 582 career kills and 499 career blocks.

 

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Darren Ramm, 1998

Two-time All-Area first-teamer in baseball, making elite team as an outfielder in 1997 and as a pitcher in 1998. Had a career batting average of .451 with 21 home runs. Compiled a 22-7 pitching record, with 295 strikeouts in 208 innings. In basketball, averaged 11.7 points his final three seasons, ending second in scoring for A-P as a junior and senior. The 6-3 Ramm had a 32-point game against Chrisman in 1997.

 

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Lawrence "Sonny" Remole, 1949

Four-year letterman at Potomac in basketball as a forward and in baseball as a first baseman. Six-footer led Artesians past top-ranked Danville in a sectional game as a senior. Now 80 and living in Marietta, Ga., he still shoots his age in golf.

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Shaughnessy Rice, 1992

Four-year basketball letterman scored 1,850 career points, most ever by a Potomac native. Guard helped Armstrong-Potomac reach the Sweet 16 in 1991, the first year of the co-op. Lettered four years in baseball and three in cross-country. Played basketball at DACC and Assumption College. Now works for Summit First Financial in Champaign.

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