When his pastor at St. Boniface Catholic Church in Edwardsville asked to talk to him four years ago, Rich Beyers wasn’t sure what was coming.
Help on the church’s finance committee? Work a stand at the parish picnic?
“He came up to me one day after Mass and said ‘Would you have any interest in helping us get a basketball program at the new high school?’” said Beyers, a former all-state basketball player at Shelbyville High School who later played for Illinois and Illinois State. “My idea was I was just going to be helping someone else, and they were like no, we want you to be the guy to do it.”
And so it came to pass that Beyers, 38, became the boys varsity basketball coach at Father McGivney Catholic High School in Glen Carbon, a school with an enrollment of 122 students.
Now in its first varsity season after four years on the underclass and junior varsity level, Father McGivney endured 12 consecutive losses before collecting the program’s first varsity win Dec. 29 with a 47-33 victory over Ramsey at the Vandalia Holiday Tournament.
The Griffins knocked off Ramsey again Tuesday night, wining 48-29 behind 15 points from junior point guard Dan Jones and 14 points and 16 rebounds from 6-foot-6 junior Logan Shumate.
Father McGivney plays at Bunker Hill at 7:30 p.m. Friday, then heads south for a 10 a.m. game Saturday against Cairo at the Pinckneyville Panthers Showcase.
Beyers realizes his 2-16 team isn’t headed for the state tournament any time soon, but important strides have been made in laying the foundation for the program.
“We’re trying to identify that guy that’s going to help lead our team and help set a standard that this is what Father McGivney basketball is all about,” Beyers said. “We’re a young team. We’re starting three juniors and two freshmen right now. That’s not always easy.
“It’s a great opportunity for them to learn and get some experience at this level. It will pay dividends down the road.”
In the historic first win, Jones led the way with 15 points, while Shumate provided 12 points and 16 rebounds. Junior Alex Loeffler tallied 14 points and grabbed 12 rebounds.
Racing out to an 18-0 lead in the game certainly didn’t hurt.
“We were just kind of shocked because we were so used to playing from behind,” Loeffler said. “It was a great feeling ... it was amazing. We were just all pumped the whole time. We could feel it as the seconds were going down with the lead.”
Beyers was so happy he bought steak sandwiches for the whole team at the concession stand.
“Coach was feeling really happy that night,” Loeffler said. “It’s just a great thing to be part of history and a great part of the first win. We’re here to build a culture for the incoming freshmen and the other incoming players.”
That’s a message that Beyers finds himself delivering quite often.
“The one thing that I get from every coach that we play against is ‘Your boys never give up. They continue to fight hard and don’t roll over,’” Beyers said.
Long nights, impossible odds
Giving up might have seemed like an option on some nights.
Their first three games this season were losses to Nashville (70-12), Wesclin (75-20) and Columbia (65-18).
Despite three years of basketball, including an 18-9 mark on the junior varsity level last season, things have not come easy for the Griffins. They do have their own gym now, so that’s a plus.
“That’s the hardest part of my job,” Beyers said, “to keep them motivated and keep them wanting to come to practice every day and work hard when you’ve just got blown out by 30 or 40 the night before. That’s a challenge.
“It’s a challenge for me because I’ve never been in that position myself as a player or coach. The boys have done a great job of never giving up.”
Loeffler, like several other basketball players, came to Father McGivney from another town. He lives in St. Jacob and attended Triad Junior High.
“It was mainly for academics,” Loeffler said. “I wanted to be part of starting up some programs, and I wanted to join the basketball team, too.”
Playing other varsity teams after several years on the underclass level made for a huge adjustment.
“I’m sure it’s hard for the boys that are juniors because they saw growth from year one and year two,” Beyers said. “Now they’re back to feeling like they’re freshmen again.”
The varsity game has been faster and more physical than what the Griffins expected. Jones is the top scorer at 9.4 points per game, while Shumate averages 9.1 points and eight rebounds and Loeffler averages 6.6 points.
“It took some time for our team to settle down and get used to it,” Loeffler said, “but as we’ve been working together and learning more about each other, we’re going to do better. We’re still not completely there, but we’re getting closer. It just comes with time.”
Loeffler said Beyers and his rigorous practices are also making a difference.
“He’s been a very, very large part of this,” Loeffler said. “He doesn’t always give a lot of credit for himself, but he’s a giant part of this. He’s always there if we mess up to help us get better at certain skills.
“He’s not one of those soft coaches. He’s a hard coach, but he understands the game. That’s what I believe our school needs. He just fits the mold, and he’s propelling us to get better.”
A winning background
Beyers, a vice president and loan officer for the Springfield-based Small Business Growth Corporation, has been around successful basketball programs much of his life.
Shelbyville won an Illinois state basketball title during his junior year in 1996, defeating Mater Dei 58-45 in the championship, and the 6-8 Beyers was a two-time all-state pick as a junior and senior. He finished his high school career just 20 points shy of 2,000 and then was part of Illinois’ 1997-98 Big Ten championship team.
Beyers played in the NCAA Tournament with the Illini and later played in the National Invitation Tournament (NIT) after transferring to Illinois State. He played for Lon Kruger at Illinois and Kevin Stallings and Tom Richardson at ISU.
All that experience was great, but Beyers still has been exasperated at times while trying to get Father McGivney’s program up and running.
“It’s been up and down. I thought last year we made a huge jump and I was very happy with where the team stood at the end of last season,” he said. “This year has been extremely difficult. It’s been a challenge, I’m not going to sugar-coat it, for the players, the coaches and everybody.
“We’re not strong enough. We need a weight room, we need that strength and conditioning facility where our boys are getting all the same opportunities as the teams that we’re playing against.”
One thing is certain. Father McGivney players know they can lean on Beyers for a little bit of everything.
“I just feel like we’re extremely lucky to have him as our coach,” Loeffler said. “As we start growing and our name starts spreading a little bit, we’ll pull in more kids and as we pull in more lids, we’ll pull in more athletes.”
Sports Offered at Father McGivney Catholic High School
- Basketball (boys and girls)
- Bass Fishing
- Bowling (boys)
- Cheerleading (co-ed)
- Cross Country (co-ed)
- Golf (boys and girls)
- Soccer (boys and girls)
- Swimming (boys and girls)
- Tennis (girls)
- Volleyball (girls)