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Retired basketball coach Tony Lavorato Sr.

lavoratosrThe old idiom, “Like father, like son,” certainly applies to longtime former high school basketball coach Tony Lavorato, Sr., and his two sons: Tony Jr. and Tim.

Lavorato Sr., who coached a combined 29 seasons at two Illinois high schools — Hinsdale South and downstate Princeton — and was later inducted into the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame, has watched his sons become successful prep hoops coaches themselves.

Tony Jr., featured recently in Fra Noi, completed his 10th year at Maine South in Park Ridge last March. He’s guided the Hawks to regional championships each of the past two seasons (all told: four regional crowns and one sectional title). The 2012-13 Hawks sported a 28-4 record, adding to Lavorato’s 10-year won-loss mark of 173-122.

Tim, meanwhile, was the head coach at Willowbrook High School in Villa Park from 2006 to 2010.

But what Tony Sr. says thrills him even more is that his sons are just as successful in the classroom. Tony Jr. teaches math at Maine South while Tim is an upper level biology instructor.

“My wife (Anita) and I take great pride in the fact that they’re both outstanding teachers,” Lavorato said. “They’re not only good teachers of the game of basketball but good academic teachers. Tony and Tim inherited all their smarts from their mother. We’re really proud of them.”

Lavorato always had a goal of becoming a head basketball coach at the high school level when he started his teaching and coaching career at Lincoln Elementary in Cicero, yet he recalls some advice he received early in his career from a junior high school principal that stuck with him throughout the years:

“He told me, ‘I understand your goals are to be a coach,’ ” Lavorato said. ” ‘You want to be the best teacher in the building as well as the best coach.’ ”

The oldest of three children — he has two younger sisters: Auggie Kubik and Phyllis Dinaro — Lavorato grew up in the Polk and Taylor street area of Chicago in what he describes as a traditional Italian-American family. But the family moved to Berwyn when he was five.

“My Dad was a mailman,” Lavorato said. “Every Sunday we would drive back to the neighborhood and to my Grandma’s house for dinner — meatballs and spaghetti. She started early in the morning. She went to church at 6:00 and then started cooking and then we’d eat at 1:00. The parents sat at parents’ table and kids sat at kids’ table.”

Lavorato’s high school coaching career got under way after he landed a teaching and coaching position at Proviso West in Hillside. He eventually moved into a role as a varsity assistant, but Proviso West’s head coach at the time, Lowell Lucas, recommended to Lavorato that he look outside the Chicago area to achieve his dream.

“He said, ‘Those guys (head basketball coaches in the area) are going to be here forever,’ ” Lavorato said. ” ‘If you want to be a head coach, you need to go to a small community.’ ”

Lavorato took Lucas up on his advice and started applying to smaller downstate high schools. One of the schools to which he applied was Princeton, located 100 miles southwest of Chicago. Lucas had introduced Lavorato to the school’s superintendent, Roger Swan, prior to applying at Princeton.

Lavorato never experienced life outside Chicago and the suburbs, but he was about to get a culture shock. Princeton hired him as a teacher and head coach, so he and Anita — married less than a year — moved to the town of around 7,000.

“Here I am taking her two hours west into corn country,” Lavorato said. “It was corn fields all the way into their main street. We’re sitting on our front porch and you don’t hear anything. We laughed about that first couple of weeks (living there). If we heard a car go past our house, it was a big deal.”

But the Lavoratos grew to love the community and would spend the next 13 years there.

“All the kids in the neighborhood went to school (at Princeton) and bled Tiger blue,” Lavorato said of Princeton, whose team nickname is the Tigers. “I could not have raised my kids in a better community. The Princeton people did a wonderful job of having my back. We had great support. ”

Lavorato experienced some lean seasons his first three years at Princeton, going 4-18, 6-16 and 9-15, respectively. But his Tiger teams posted winning records eight of the next 10 years, including three straight campaigns of 20-or-more victories. His best season was 25-3 in 1984-85.

One of Lavorato’s best players at Princeton, Troy Nelson, is an assistant coach on Willowbrook boys’ team. Another top player for Lavorato at Princeton, John Rumley, is the principal at Macomb High School, located in western Illinois.

Lavorato thought he and his family would stay in Princeton and that he would end his teaching and coaching career there. However, both he and Anita’s parents, still living in the suburbs, were aging, and it got them thinking about going back to the Chicago area.

“They weren’t able to come out to see us,” he said. “Is there going to come a point where we had to come back? I started to look at jobs in the suburbs.”

The Lavoratos did end up back in the ‘burbs in 1986 after he was hired to teach and be the head basketball coach at Hinsdale South.

Lavorato coached there for 16 years. His teams won two regional championships over that span, despite competing in the same conference as perennial powerhouse Proviso East, which had future NBA players such as Donnie Boyce, Sherrill Ford, Michael Finley and Shannon Brown suiting up for the Pirates during Lavorato’s tenure.

Both Tony Jr. and Tim played basketball for their father at Hinsdale South. The Lavorato boys also went on to play collegiately — Tony at Augustana (located in Rock Island) and Tim at Knox (in Galesburg).

“It was a great experience,” said Lavorato of coaching his sons. “I think it was harder on them than it was on me. No matter how good they did they were under the microscope because they were my kids. We never talked about it (basketball at the (dinner) table. Basketball stayed at school and that worked out really, really well.”

Lavorato, who retired from coaching and teaching in 2002, says he couldn’t have spent 34 years in the business without Anita — who also was a school teacher — standing beside him.

“I could not have been in business unless I had a great wife,” he said. “She was my biggest supporter, and she also would be the individual I would bounce stuff off of and she’d give me an honest answer. I could have never done it without her. She’s a great wife and a great mother.”

About Mike Sandrolini

Mike Sandrolini has been published in the Elmhurst Independent, Voyager Media, the Daily Herald, the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Bear Report. His stories and columns have been recognized for editorial excellence at regional, state and national newspaper contests over the years. He also has co-authored two books: “Bear With Me: A Family History of George Halas and the Chicago Bears” and “All the Good in Sports.” His father, Raymond, is a native of Gaggio Montano, a small village around 30 miles southwest of Bologna.