Edwardsville boys coach Mike Waldo honored in pregame ceremony
Mike Waldo isn't quite ready to ride off into the sunset.
The Edwardsville coach, in his 30th and final season with the Tigers, was honored in a pregame ceremony Friday before his team shaded Belleville East 57-54 in a Southwestern Conference game.
It also was Senior Night, and Waldo, not surprisingly, was more inclined to talk about his players than enjoying the spotlight that irresistibly shined on him.
"First of all, it was Senior Night, and the dancers and the cheerleaders and our guys have really worked hard and done well," Waldo said. "So I really don't think this is the time to talk about old, bald guys. Those kids really deserve to be honored."
Many former Edwardsville players, including AJ Epenesa, Oliver Stephen, Jason Boyd, Dustin Maguire, Brandon Hogg, Darius Crockrell and Ish Roundtree, were at the game and shared hugs with their former coach as he tried to make his way to the locker room.
Waldo was interested in being with his team after it secured the narrow win, which came when senior RJ Wilson rebounded a missed shot by senior Jack Marinko and scored on a putback while being fouled with 0.7 seconds to play.
After a timeout, Wilson completed the three-point play, and a desperation heave from halfcourt by Lancers senior Clayton Hughes was well short.
"I'm really appreciative that so many old players came back," Waldo said. "But I really don't have my mind on (leaving) right now. Sorry. I'm just going to try to get ready to play O'Fallon or Althoff (in the Class 4A Belleville West Regional)."
Marinko led the Tigers (17-8, 10-4) with 23 points, while senior Caleb Strohmeier had 19.
Junior Jared Adams topped the Lancers (11-16, 2-12) with 15.
East coach Jeff Creek, in his first year after serving as a longtime assistant for the Lancers, credited Waldo for what he's meant to metro-east basketball.
"It's an honor to be a part of this night for Coach Waldo," Creek said. "He's done so much for basketball around here. He's an unbelievable coach. He deserves all the accolades.
"He wins. He's averaging over 20 wins a season. What a lot of people don't know about him is he's the nicest guy in the world. He remembers things that happened eight years ago in one of your underclass games, and he comes and talks to you about it. He's going to be missed around the conference, for sure."
The Lancers made a point to be on the bench when Edwardsville's seniors were introduced, just before Waldo's recognition.
"We wanted to be a part of it," Creek said. "We wanted to be out there when Coach Waldo was honored because I feel like that's the right thing to do, and he deserves everyone to be out there. I congratulated him beforehand; we talked a little bit over on the bench. He's so focused on the game.
"He doesn't want credit, even though he deserves it more than anybody. That just shows how humble of a guy he is."
Waldo said once the game got going, it felt like any other that he's coached.
"Like I said, I'm very appreciative of all my guys coming back — and to Edwardsville," said Waldo, again deflecting attention from himself. "But I'm really not thinking about that right now. Again, I'm an old, bald guy. We've got kids, man, who are doing good. We don't need to be talking about that."
Edwardsville has not named a successor for Waldo, although assistant Dustin Battas is believed to be one of the candidates. Waldo said in a recent interview that he would like to remain in coaching, but his future will be somewhere other than Edwardsville.
"Coach Waldo, I would say, is irreplaceable," said Epenesa, now a defensive end on the University of Iowa football team. "His work ethic and his dedication to helping teams get better in the sport of basketball is unmatched by anybody. There's no one in this area, and I doubt if there's anybody in the state or the country, who is as dedicated as Coach Waldo. It's unbelievable.
"This was a great night, and I hope he remembers this forever."