THE BLOG
11/20/2013 10:40 am ET | Updated Jan 25, 2014

Support Needed for Naming Baseball Field At Evanston Township High School After Ken McGonagle

On November 20, 2013, 82-year-old Ernie Banks, "Mr. Cub", received the Presidential Medal of Freedom along with others, the highest honor given civilians in the United States. This is despite his never having played in postseason, though he was elected into the MLB Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility in 1977, his uniform No. 14 being retired in 1982 and a statue of himself unveiled outside Wrigley field in 2008. With this most prestigious of honors, Banks said, "When you do things to try to help people and share things, it really comes back to you. I try to do that."

The similarities to Evanston Township High School's (ETHS) legendary baseball coach who taught at the school from 1955-1988, Dr. Kenneth R. McGonagle [he also holds a PhD in secondary education and physical education from Indiana University, preceded some years earlier by a Master's from the University of Illinois], has streaks of familiarity. He is now 83; upon concluding his high school tenure, his No. 22 was retired by the school-and may be the only act of its kind provided anyone who led any of the baseball teams at ETHS-; and this past August, the school inducted him into its athletic hall of fame, only the 4th such coach to be so honored. No, there is no statue of him on the grounds of the 130 year-old institution in the suburb just north of Chicago, but there is an effort in earnest now to have his name permanently affixed to its baseball field. This just needs more support, so anyone reading this post and wanting to help the cause, read on.

McGonagle is the winningest coach in the school's history, with 657 wins, including those for his boys' soccer teams. In baseball, he led his clubs to 11 league titles and one state championship (summer 1970). In soccer before the state tourney started in the early 1980s his teams were voted the best in the state 3x, with one taking 2d and another third in state tourney play. In earlier years he was voted into the halls of fame by the Illinois state high school baseball, and soccer, coaches associations. In 1982, the baseball association voted him its "Man of the Year". McGonagle was one of its founders together with high school baseball coach luminaries such as Jack Kaiser (Oak Park), Ron Klein (New Trier), Jim Phipps (Niles West) and Jay Sanders (Highland Park).

McGonagle's stardom in sports commenced while playing at his own high school in Royalton, Minnesota where he was also selected into its hall of fame, followed by a career in baseball and basketball for the Golden Gophers at the University of Minnesota and then a three year stint in the Cincinnati Reds MLB organization.

McGonagle has been described by supporters as a forefather of the state's baseball coaches' association; legendary among the elite of state baseball coaches; one who taught being accountable to self, team and the sport; impressive, personable, kind, and gentle; one who was more concerned in teaching students than victories on a field; who undertook considerable efforts for the community of Evanston; and whose tenure at the school reads like the career of two men, perhaps three. All of his former baseball players who made it to the pro level who were contacted (1962-1990) all want to see the field named after him. Supporters also include distinguished alums and non-athletes too. Even his chief coaching rival, Ron Klein of New Trier in Winnetka, penned that not only did McGonagle have exceptional coaching abilities and skills with his innovations but his off-the-field work was equally outstanding, particularly his committee work and involvement in making baseball better, both locally and nationally. "When you think of naming something after someone, it should be given to someone who had gone beyond what was expected of him, Ken was that person", Klein said. And Klein should know, since New Trier's baseball field was named after him some years back. As with Klein, McGonagle was part of what can be viewed in retrospect as the "golden era" of state area high school varsity baseball coaches.

In 2009 or thereabouts, the high school put the finishing touches on its brand new baseball facility, called Evanston Baseball Park; this was on the site where McGonagle toiled for his 33 years as varsity coach. The facility has a 20 ft. "big blue monster" in left field ala Boston's Fenway Park's green one, and accoutrements found in some of the finest college playing fields like brick dugouts, wrap-around stands, a superb infield and natural grass outfield with an eco-friendly watering system. Ask any coach or player who has played there what it is like to play on what looks like a college facility.

As part of its campaign to raise funds for the new ballpark at the time, the high school put up on its website an announcement, saying that, "Baseball is America's game. Here in Evanston it belongs to every person who has ever felt the smack of a ball in a well-oiled mitt or felt the crack of the bat. It belongs to parents, grandparents, and caregivers watching their kids on the field, perhaps remembering their own time on the diamond...The Evanston Baseball Park will feature the best of Evanston Baseball..." But this park will not feature the "best" because its field has yet to be named after its best baseball coach ever.

Like Mr. Cub who is being honored, now is also the time to honor Ken McGonagle with the signage, "McGonagle Field at the Evanston Baseball Park". To do this , merely write or send an email of support to this author at either, mzaremski@gmail.com or to him at, P.O. Box 555, Highland Park, Illinois 60035. They then will be delivered to school officials.