BOYS BASKETBALL: Cissna Park coach Kevin Long ends career at biggest stage
PEORIA — Kevin Long was bound to be a successful coach from a young age. The son of an Illinois High School Football Coaches Association Hall-of-Famer, Bob Long, he still remembers when it was that he wanted to not only coach basketball, but coach in a state championship game.
“My dad started taking me to the state tournament when I was seven years old back in 1967, when it was played at Assembly Hall (in Champaign),” Long said. “I said, ‘Dad, I want to do that someday.’
“It took me 24 years to do it, but I got it done on the last day.”
Long and the Timberwolves fell just short of their championship goals with a 52-29 loss to Providence St. Mel in Saturday’s IHSA Class 1A State Championship.
But for his players, such as senior big man Christian Stadeli, Long’s imprint will last much longer than the length of their high school basketball careers.
“He’s taught us so many life lessons, like how to dream big, how to put passion and hard work into everything you do,” Stadeli said. “I’m sure that when we go on in our futures, we’ll be able to go back on what we learned and what he taught us.”
And according to fellow senior Brian Fehr, one of those lessons is in self-belief.
“He’s always talked to me about believing in myself and pushing myself to go further,” Fehr said. “Just doing what’s best to get myself better in life and preparing me to be a better man going forward.”
And during Long’s tenure with the Timberwolves, he has received the small-town support only seen in movies — nearly the entire town shut down over the weekend to take the trek to Peoria.
That was exemplified on the team’s walk from their hotel to Carver Arena before Saturday’s title game.
“I’ve been at Cissna Park for 24 years and if there’s a better place to teach, coach, have the community support we have, I’ve yet to find it,” Long said. “We had to go through the skywalk on the way here and it was lined with well over 100 fans. It’s a lifelong memory to have that kind of support and it’s a great community.”
The 2018-19 campaign, much like the community’s support, has been something normally reserved for the big screen. Long reached his 500th win, made his first championship appearance and in May, will be inducted into the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame alongside his brother, Matt Long, who also won his 500th game as the girls basketball coach at Central-Southeastern, a co-op between Central (Camp Point) and Southeastern (Augusta) high schools.
But for Kevin Long, after Saturday’s game, all he could think about was the ride he and his team took this year.
“Not many coaches can sit at a podium like this, even though we’re in defeat, and say, ‘I got to coach the last game of my career with a great group of guys, on the big stage of the state championship,’” Long said. “It can’t end much better than that.”