A life remembered: George Young

SHELBYVILLE — George Young built more than a girls’ basketball program when he took over as the head coach at Paxton High School in the mid-1970s.

“He made it a family affair. He was the dad,” said former assistant coach Don Shields. “(The players) knew right away that he cared for them. ... There wasn’t a girl on that squad who he didn’t like and didn’t have a great deal of respect for in all his years.”

The family culture that Mr. Young maintained through the two decades in which he coached girls’ basketball at Paxton High and later Paxton-Buckley-Loda High is still remembered by his former players after Mr. Young died at age 75 on Nov. 27 in his native Shelbyville.

“Every basketball season it was like we were family. We spent so much time together,” said Peggy Seibring, who played for Mr. Young at PHS from 1979 to 1982. “Although we worked incredibly hard in practices, we still had so much fun. Both coach Young and Shields had a great sense of humor, so we were usually laughing at some point.”

“He was definitely like a father figure to me in high school, and he is one of the main reasons I wanted to become a basketball coach,” added Lynn Rubarts, who played for Mr. Young from 1984 to 1986 and now coaches PBL Junior High’s eighth-grade team. “I wanted to make a difference in the girls’ lives just like he made a big impact in my life.”

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Mr. Young leaves behind his wife, Linda, who, according to Shields, played a motherly role in the Paxton/PBL girls’ basketball program.

“She made sure that the girls were fed,” Shields said. “Before every game, she would cut up oranges for the entire team so the girls could have oranges at halftime.”

Along with the halftime snack breaks, the girls would also hold a weekly team meeting at the Youngs’ house to watch game film.

“He and his wife would even feed us sometimes,” Seibring said.

The parental love from Mr. Young came with some strong discipline.

According to Shields, Mr. Young also served as a football coach for a number of years during his time at Paxton/PBL.

“The guys remember how hard he drove them in football,” Shields said.

That drive carried over to Mr. Young’s girls’ basketball programs, as well.

“Both he and I are screamers. We would yell from the minute the girls hit the floor until practice was over. He expected them to perform just like boys,” Shields said. “He wanted athletes, and that’s what he got. George drove them hard. He expected a lot out of them.”

One of Mr. Young’s favorite sayings at practice was “on the line,” Rubarts recalled.

“We all loved that part of practice. He also had some interesting ideas for preseason conditioning,” Rubarts said. “One year, we had to do aerobics. It was pretty embarrassing. ... The boys would come in and make fun of us.  Those were the good ole days.” 

The Paxton/PBL girls also had to run the cross-country course and then out to the overpass by Interstate 57 on Paxton’s west side. Already exhausted, Mr. Young would then make the girls do sit-ups underneath the overpass. 

“He was tough, but he cared about you as a person,” Rubarts said.

“Coach Young and coach Shields were the type of coaches that just made you want to play your best for them,” Seibring added.

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Mr. Young approached Shields with the prospect of being his assistant girls’ basketball coach in 1978.

“I told him I had experience coaching wrestling in Iowa, and he said, ‘Good, you’re my new assistant basketball coach,’” Shields recalled. “I said, ‘George, I don’t know anything about basketball. I never played the game.’ He said, ‘Don’t worry about it. The girls won’t know that. Just stand around and watch, and I’ll help you through it.’”

Mr. Young’s last year as coach was in 1994-95.

“He pretty much got the ball rolling when it came around to getting the program built up,” Shields said. “There weren’t very many people who stayed together in one place like that. George really taught me a lot about loyalty, how to push people and how to make sure that you got the best out of your teams.”

“He was an incredible coach,” ShaLyn Sue Darr-Pettman, a former center on Mr. Young’s basketball team, said on the Ford County Record’s Facebook page. “He was a tough coach but very fair at the same time. He was much loved by his players.”

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Mr. Young’s years of coaching included two Elite Eight appearances in the state tournament.

In 1980,  the Paxton Mustangs advanced to the IHSA Class A Elite Eight but lost to Benton 53-50 in the quarterfinals. Benton went on to win the state title.

The Mustangs advanced to the Elite Eight the next year, too, but lost to Rushville 58-45 in the quarterfinals.

The back-to-back Elite Eight group consisted of Angie Lee, who went on to become head women’s basketball coach at the University of Iowa, and Robin Thompson, who went on to play basketball at Western Illinois University.

“We had a really great group of girls to work with,” Shields said. “We were very fortunate to have a group of girls who were very athletic and were hard-workers.”

According to Seibring, when his players walked out on the Assembly Hall court during their Elite Eight appearances, Young “told us to just stop for a minute, look around, and soak it all in.”

“What a memory,” Seibring said.

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Around that time, Paxton played in an annual holiday tournament in Peotone in Will County. One year, during the course of the Mustangs’ time there, it snowed so badly that Interstate 57 was closed down, so the team stayed up all night in Peotone High School’s gym. The girls slept on mats in the gym, while the coaches slept on couches in teachers’ lounge.

“At about 1 or 2 a.m., the janitor came to us and said, ‘Coach, you’d better get your girls under control; they’re messing around in the gym,’” Shields recalled. “And (Mr. Young) said, ‘You take care of it.’

“Sure enough, the girls were up in the middle of the night with no lights in the gym with the exception of the exit lights, and they were running drills and playing and having a good old time up there.”

“Mr. Young came down, shook his head and told Mr. Shields to deal with us,” Seibring recalled. “I’m not sure how well we played in the tournament the next day.”

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Mr. Young’s antics on the bench during games were well-remembered, as well.

“You never knew what was going to happen on the bench,” Shields said. “When something would go wrong, he would lean over to me and say under his breath, ‘Rats and fracken.’ Coaches at that point could not stand. We had to remain seated. When something would happen, George would elbow me. I remember one game against Tri-Valley, something happened, and George elbowed me and I wasn’t ready for it, and he knocked me right out of the chair onto the ground.”

“He would also coach games in his cowboy boots,” Rubarts recalled, “and he might have made a few comments to us about doing something with those boots when we had quite a few turnovers.”

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Along with coaching basketball, Mr. Young was an advanced biology teacher at Paxton High School from 1966 to 1990 and PBL High School from 1990 to 1995.

One of his former students, Carol Hoover Hartig of Schaumburg, described Mr. Young as “a phenomenal teacher.”

“Mr. Young ran class as though we were in college: We learned to take meticulous notes; we were immersed in binomial nomenclature; we lived and breathed the scientific method. For the love of God, we truly understood the Kreb’s cycle!” Hartig recalled. “I never had a better teacher than George Young. No one prepared students for college better than he did. I love basketball, but this man was so much more than a beloved coach. He was a true teacher.”

“We dissected cats, pigs, frogs — you name it,” Seibring said. “He also took us on a field trip out to a pond for some hands-on learning and would take us on bug-collecting excursions. He was a great teacher, and his sense of humor showed up in the classroom, too.

“Mr. Young was one of those teachers/coaches who left a lasting impression on his students/athletes. We definitely mourn his passing but feel incredibly lucky that he was part of our lives.”

Mr. Young remained a part of his former players’ lives long after he was done teaching and coaching.

“When I started coaching, I would look up in the stands at least once or twice a year and he would be there watching, and he would always stick around and talk to me afterward,” Rubarts said. “That meant so much to me that he would take time to come watch me coach. Coach Young was one of the best, in my opinion, and he will be missed by his Paxton Lady Mustangs and Panthers.”

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Dave Hinton, editor of the Rantoul Press, said he enjoyed interviewing Mr. Young when Hinton was a reporter for the Paxton Daily Record.

“George was a journalist’s dream,” Hinton said. “You ask him a question and then just let him talk. He was very talkative — and a very good human being. He and Don Shields were quite a pair together — two of my favorite coaches.”

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A memorial service for Mr. Young will be at 1 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 1, at the Howe and Yockey Funeral Home in Shelbyville, with the Rev. Thomas M. Jones officiating. Visitation will be from noon to 1 p.m. Dec. 1 at the funeral home. Burial will be in Glenwood Cemetery in Shelbyville.

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