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MIKE CLARK: Decades down the road, Valparaiso coaching legend Greg Kirby remains in touch with his roots

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It's been almost 50 years since Greg Kirby left his hometown of Danville, Illinois, to climb the next rung of the coaching ladder.

But the longtime basketball coach who found his greatest success in Porter County never forgot where he came from.

"Danville was a great place to grow up in the '50s and '60s," Kirby said. "I'm still in touch some some of those guys. We have a group text, 'Danville buddies.'"

They haven't forgotten Kirby, either. On Saturday, he'll be inducted into the Greater Illiana Sports Hall of Fame, based in Danville and covering east-central Illinois and west-central Indiana. Interestingly, he won't be the only inductee with NWI ties — also being honored is longtime Valparaiso High boys coach Virgil Sweet, a Covington native.

It's the third such honor for Kirby, who retired from coaching in 2012 after a six-year stint with the Valparaiso University women's program. Earlier, Kirby joined the Valparaiso High School and Indiana Basketball Coaches Association halls. 

How did this latest induction come about? Scott Medlin, one of the Illiana Hall of Fame organizers, was a manager for Kirby when the latter returned to his hometown to teach and coach at what is now North Ridge Middle School in 1970.

"I wasn't really intending to be a coach necessarily when I got out of college," said Kirby, who owns a bachelor's degree from William Jewell College in Missouri and a master's from the University of Illinois.

But he coached for a year in Missouri and five years at North Ridge before heading across the border to be a teacher and JV basketball coach at Anderson for three years.

That's when he got the itch to run his own program and wound up moving to the Region. He interviewed for the Portage boys job in 1978 and wasn't sure it would lead anywhere.

"I got in the car and started home," Kirby said. "I was on Central Avenue in Lake Station and cars behind me were flashing their lights at me."

So he pulled over and got out to talk to one of the drivers following him. It was the Portage superintendent, who offered Kirby the job.

He took it and went 115-86 in nine seasons before getting fired, a situation he's not interested in rehashing. But after a couple seasons away from coaching, he was invited to interview for the vacant Valparaiso High girls coaching job.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Over 16 seasons, Kirby went 324-58 (an .848 winning percentage) with 13 Duneland Athletic Conference titles, 13 sectional championships, nine regional titles, four semistate championships, and state runner-up finishes in 1996 and 2000.

That was followed by the stint at Valparaiso University before Kirby retired after a coaching career of more than 50 seasons.

While he still follows the game, Kirby said, "I don't miss the long hours. My wife (Jerry) was a saint. There were four kids; I was out having fun and she was taking care of the kids."

And all these years later, the honors keep coming in.


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