The Riverside-Brookfield High School boys basketball program has a very informative website (www.riversidebrookfieldbasketball.com), which offers almost anything a Bulldogs fan would want to know.
For an unabridged understanding of RBHS hoops, a conversation with George Hajek might be in order. He’s the unofficial program historian, who officially was honored as a superfan for 60 years of support before the Bulldogs’ game against Brother Rice on Tuesday, Jan. 8 (past deadline).
It’s well-deserved recognition for the North Riverside resident who has been attending games since his senior year at RBHS in 1959.
“I remembered the first game (Jan. 9, 1959) that I went to because the score was so bad,” said Hajek, who was born in 1941. “It was against Hinsdale, just Hinsdale back then not Hinsdale Central. The halftime score was 60-19 and the final was 92-53.”
Those early years Hajek followed RBHS were lean as the team went 2-36 during his sophomore and junior years (combined) and 6-14 in 1959.
Then, Tom Kondla happened. Kondla led the Bulldogs to a pair of 17-5 seasons in 1963 and 1964 with Hajek in the stands appreciating the team’s ascension. After graduating from RBHS, Kondla played basketball at the University of Minnesota, was selected by the Milwaukee Bucks in the 1968 NBA draft, and played in the American Basketball Association (ABA) for the Minnesota Pipers and Houston Mavericks.
As for Hajek, he attended Lyons Township Junior College and Southern Illinois University before serving in the army during the late 1960s.
While he has always followed RBHS sports, Hajek’s interest was reignited when Tim Brasic starred at quarterback for the Bulldogs. And yes, Hajek was at the legendary 2001 RBHS-Joliet Catholic Class 5A quarterfinal game which the Hilltoppers won 56-50. Joliet Catholic defensive back Chris Minarich deflected a pass from Brasic to Matt George for an incompletion in the end zone on the last play.
“That one tip made the difference,” Hajek said. “It was an absolutely incredible game. Joliet Catholic would score mostly on the ground and we would score mostly in the air. I think RB would have gone on to the state championship if we won that game.”
Basketball has always been Hajek’s favorite sport. He enjoyed watching the Boston Celtics of the 1950s and 1960s, the model organization back in the day for fundamental, winning basketball.
Perhaps that’s why he is drawn to RBHS basketball as well. Sure, it’s Hajek’s alma mater but the Bulldogs (as cliché as it sounds) also play the game the right way.
“The program gets these players ready from third or fourth grade all the way up to high school varsity,” Hajek said. “I really like the team this season. I think they can go far. I also loved the 2015 team, the only one to advance to a supersectional. You’re close to the action at games and R-B has had some very good teams that play up-tempo basketball.”
Through the years, Hajek has enjoyed watching Bulldog stars like Kondla, Chris Parrish, Ryan Jackson, Sean McGonagill and Sam Johnson (among many others). He also used to talk often with former Riverside resident and Chicago Bulls coach and announcer Johnny “Red” Kerr when Kerr’s two sons played basketball for the Bulldogs. Interestingly enough, Hajek also attended the Bulls’ first exhibition game ever at, where else, but RBHS.
His enjoyment of Bulldogs basketball, however, extends well beyond the court.
“I’ve made a lot of really good friendships by going to games,” he said. “Getting to know players of parents and other fans out at the games has been great. I also have good relationships with (former RBHS coach) Tom (McCloskey) and (current RBHS coach) Mike (Reingruber).”
Retired since 2005, Hajek sings in the choir at Mater Christi Church in North Riverside and enjoys going to movies with friends. He estimates that his attendance rate for RBHS boys basketball games is 95 percent.
Reingruber thinks that projection may be modest.
“George literally comes to everything,” Reingruber said. “Whether it’s freshman, sophomore or varsity, or even summer ball, he never misses a game. George’s value to the program is more than he probably realizes. He really epitomizes the importance and value of high school sports in our community.
“I hope all the players who have played in our program realize the importance of the jersey they put on and the pride people like George in our community have in Riverside-Brookfield High School and our athletic program,” he added. “We truly appreciate all the support he has given us through the years. George is the best.”