Mt. Vernon Register-News

February 17, 2013

MVTHS Sports Hall of Fame: John Riley


MT. VERNON — Almost 63 years after winning the second of back-to-back Illinois state basketball titles, John Riley is to be inducted into the Mt. Vernon Township High School Sports Hall of Fame as a member of the Class of 2013.

“First of all, it’s an honor to be there, because some of the people that have gone in already are very talented athletes and are a good bunch to represent the school,” Riley said. “In that respect, I’m honored to be considered among that group.”

But, Riley said that the recollection of the memories is also important to him.

“The other thing is that it kind of makes you reflect back on the time when we as a team were getting ready to compete in the state tournament, with all of the trials and tribulations that we went through,” Riley said. “All of those things come back to mind again. When we won the championship, that was kind of the icing on the cake. This is the kind of thing that causes you to reflect on the years that have gone by. It’s just a very good feeling.”

Riley was a multi-sport athlete. He played offensive and defensive end on the football team. He was the shortstop on the Rams baseball team and he even ran hurdles for the track team.

But, Riley will always be remembered for his contributions on the basketball court, especially in the state tournament in 1949 and 1950, when Mt. Vernon won its second and third state championships.

After winning it all with a 30-3 record in 1949, the Rams followed with a perfect 33-0 record in 1950. Riley said winning the second time wasn’t as easy as it may have sounded.

“I wouldn’t say that we expected to win, but we knew that we had a very good chance to win it again,” Riley said. “And we were certainly very confident that we were going to do our very best.”

They did their best, but it wasn’t like winning came without a few hurdles to cross.

“We had just won the semifinal game and knew that we would be in the finals,” Riley said. “Right before that game ended I started getting a toothache. It turned out to be an abscessed tooth. I was taken to the dentist and the tooth was extracted. At that time, my most immediate fear was that coach might keep me on the bench for the game. So, when I got out of the dental office and got back to the hotel, the first thing that I did was go and find Coach (Stanley) Changnon. Much to my pleasure and satisfaction, he didn’t. But, having that done certainly took a lot out of me. I played the whole game, but I was concerned that he may have not let me play.”

Riley also recalled a particular football game between the Rams and the Benton Rangers, with fellow Hall of Famer Max Hooper under center for Mt. Vernon.

“Max was the quarterback and I was an end. Back in those days, you played both offense and defense. We had this key game coming up against Benton, who had an all-star fullback named John Bauer,” Riley said. “We’d heard that he was a real whizz-bang hitter and that he was going to be the key to Benton’s offense. So we knew that we were going to have to be well prepared for him.”

So, the Rams prepared, but Riley wasn’t really prepared for what happened next.

“I was playing defensive end and early in the game there was a play where he was going to carry the ball around my end,” Riley said. “I saw him coming and told myself that I was going to nail this guy, so he wouldn’t be coming around my end again anytime soon. The next thing that I knew, I was picking myself up off of the ground, while I’m seeing stars. I suspected that he must have been working in the coal mines on his off days because he was a really big, well-built guy. I got a real education in a hurry. I had a lot more respect for him the next time that he came around my end.”