With his car needing work and out of commission, Dennis Rueter borrowed his mother’s car to make a trip to Waterloo for a head coaching interview at Gibault High School.
Thirty-seven years and 701 wins later, Rueter is still coaching basketball at Gibault and says he is happy to be doing it. The Hawks gave the 60-year-old Rueter his 700th career win Friday with a 41-26 victory over the Mascoutah Indians.
“They just had an opening; I was going to cancel the interview,” said Rueter, who had spent the previous two seasons as a junior varsity coach at Cerro Gordo High near Decatur. “I got down there to Gibault and they offered me the job. It didn’t seem like too bad of a situation.”
It wasn’t, but Rueter’s coaching and the school’s basketball talent combined to put the program on the map.
His teams are 701-360 since 1980 and the current Hawks (20-6) are on a 12-game winning streak. Since Rueter took over, Gibault owns 14 regional titles and four sectional titles, also finishing second at the 1999 Class A state tournament while producing numerous college players.
He told us the whole week what’s the difference between 699 and 700, he wasn’t really fazed by the idea of 700 wins. I think he enjoyed it, though.
Gibault senior Trevor Davis
In the same week, both Rueter and Edwardsville coach Mike Waldo each reached 700 career wins while longtime Westchester St. Joseph coach Gene Pingatore added to his ever-growing Illinois state record Saturday by collecting his 1,000th career victory.
“Gibault was a small-school and I was a big-school guy,” said Rueter, who played for Belleville East. “I thought I’d look for bigger schools to go to and just didn’t do it. Thirty-seven years later you’re still in the same job and I can’t say I really have any regrets at all.”
Both Rueter and the Gibault players felt a little extra heat to get the 700th win Friday night in the Hawks’ home gym. A huge crowd was on hand, many waving specially made signs that had “Rueter Fever” on one side and “700 Wins” on the other.
Some former players also made the trip, along with numerous Rueter family members and friends.
“Our principal had already ordered the 700th win cake, then we got there and every body had the little flyers with the ‘700 wins’ on them,” said Gibault senior Trevor Davis, who had 19 points in the Mascoutah win. “There was definitely a lot of pressure on the game, but he was the same old Coach Rueter.
“He told us the whole week what’s the difference between 699 and 700, he wasn’t really fazed by the idea of 700 wins. I think he enjoyed it, though.”
Rueter most definitely did.
“I had some friends from Chicago there and my wife was going to be out of town Saturday night so it was going to be a problem for her (if it didn’t happen,” Rueter said. “Mascoutah didn’t make it easy, either. It’s a big number and it means we’ve had a good degree of success. It also means I’ve been in it for a long time.”
For current players like Davis, seeing many former Hawks congratulate Rueter that night or speak to them after the game let them realize they are part of something much bigger.
Among the visitors was former Gibault High and University of Indiana player Lance Stemler.
It’s a big number and it means we’ve had a good degree of success. It also means I’ve been in it for a long time.
Coach Dennis Rueter
“It was a blast,” Davis said. “I think the whole team understood what this meant, 700 wins is a big deal. When we look back at this from 10 years from know, we’ll say we were the team that helped him get the 700th. You’re always running into ex-players talking about their Rueter experience.
“It’s really something that’s awesome to be a part of.”
Why have Rueter and Gibault been such a good fit through nearly four decades?
“I really like the fact that it is a small school,” he said. “You get to know all the kids. All the kids that you coach, they know you from a different perspective because they don’t know you as a coach, they also know you as a teacher.
“It’s been a good fit for me. I think is probably where I was meant to be.”
Rueter got to coach each of his three sons, Justin, Jared and Jacob, and Jared Rueter is on the current coaching staff. Dennis Rueter has also coached nephews, other relatives and several players from the same families, but shows no signs of slowing down.
“I tell people I could coach for one more year or I could coach for eight more years,” Rueter said. “I don’t know. It’s a lot of years, I wouldn’t have thought I’d be in it that long. I just keep doing it because I like it and after a while you get to some big numbers.”