Legendary ex-Manual High School basketball coach Dick Van Scyoc dies at age 98

Wes Huett
Journal Star
Dick Van Scyoc, former Manual boys basketball coach, is shown in a photo from the Journal Star archives.

Dick Van Scyoc, the legendary coach who built Manual High School into a basketball power, died Friday afternoon surrounded by his wife, Karen, and daughters Gwen and Jan. He was 98.

Van Scyoc won 826 games overall in 45 seasons as a coach, most notably as leader of the iconic South Peoria program. The man many called "Coach Van" won 543 games at Manual in a 28-season run that ended with an Illinois state championship in 1993-94.

“I give all my players and assistant coaches a lot of credit, too," Van Scyoc said in a 2009 Q&A with the Journal Star. "It wasn’t all Van Scyoc, but a lot of hard work by a lot of good people went into those 826 wins.”

Also nicknamed "The Godfather," the hall of fame coach retired while ranked No. 1 statewide in boys basketball coaching victories; four coaches have since passed him. Manual won three more consecutive titles after he retired, each under the late Wayne McClain. 

From the archives:2009 Q&A with legendary Manual coach Dick Van Scyoc

Van Scyoc is a native of Eureka. He began coaching Manual in 1966 after coaching boys basketball at Armington and Washington. He led Washington to the state finals in 1962. His Manual teams finished second in AA in 1991, third in 1986 and ’88 and fourth in 1972.

Former Manual High School basketball coach Dick Van Scyoc waves to the crowd as Derrick Booth presents him with a plaque for his years of service as a coach and teacher at the school from 1966-1994 at a ceremony Dec. 18, 2009 in the Manual High School gym.

How a promising pitcher ended up coaching on the court

Van Scyoc graduated from Eureka High School in 1942 and seemed headed for a career in pro baseball, according to a 1994 article from the Chicago Tribune. The Boston Red Sox sent him to their Class D farm in Danville, Virginia. Van Scyoc, a left-handed pitcher, “stuck it out a whole month,” wrote the Tribune.

“Worried about losing his college eligibility, he left — the night he was supposed to make his first start — and hitchhiked home,” wrote the Tribune.

Van Scyoc then spent three years in the Army before graduating from Illinois Wesleyan in 1949 after playing basketball and baseball. He then began his coaching career in earnest, spending two years at now-defunct Armington (part of the Stanford Olympia consolidation) and then 15 years at Washington, where he won 256 games and led the Panthers to state in 1962.

Van Scyoc landed at Manual in 1966. The program had its share of success before his arrival, winning a state championship in 1930 and earning three other top-four trophies.

But in the five years before the coach arrived, Manual’s record was 59-56 — including one season at 2-19. Meanwhile, Manual football under Ken Hinrichs was a perennial power, posting four unbeaten seasons in that pre-playoff era. Ed Stonebock’s baseball program was coming off his second state title and about to win a third.

From the archives:Manual selected as the top boys basketball program in Journal Star history

“When I got to Manual in 1966,” Van Scyoc told the Journal Star in 2016, “basketball was something to do after football season was over and until baseball season started.”

From left, Gene Pingatore and Dick Van Scyoc are greeted by Steve Goers, before the three Illinois high school coaching legends speak about their careers on Saturday morning at Renaissance Coliseum.

Six years of steady building finally got the basketball Rams their first regional title under Van Scyoc. That 1972 team reached the state semifinals before losing to the Dolton Thornridge team still revered as perhaps the greatest in Illinois history.

It was another decade before Manual basketball returned to state, and there were some rocky seasons in between. But the often undersized Rams established a reputation for tenacity, discipline and relentless defense, and those traits never wavered.

A surge in greatness for the Rams

Manual became almost a household name in state basketball during the 1980s, qualifying for the state’s Elite Eight four times and finishing third twice. The 1987 team was unbeaten and ranked No. 1 before Quincy knocked the Rams out of the quarterfinals with a last-second shot.

In a 2016 article about the Manual program, longtime assistant Chuck Westendorf said the surge resulted from quality players finally merging with a sound program built on discipline, hard work and high expectations. That’s no doubt true, but player development and opportunity also were part of the equation.

Van Scyoc said in 2016 that he started to see real improvement when the Rams began to participate in summer events in the late 1970s. More players began to attend open gyms and work on their games year-round. 

South Peoria series:Homegrown leadership for Manual basketball helps youth navigate surroundings

Manual and its kids were not alone in those endeavors, but the coaching staff never missed a chance to reinforce the value of hard work.

“Coach Van would tell the kids,” Westendorf says, “‘Central is working really hard, Richwoods is working really hard. We’ve gotta outwork them.’”

Manual, in the midst of winning or sharing 14 conference championships and 13 sectionals in 18 seasons, lost a heartbreaker to Proviso East in the 1991 Class AA state championship game, then broke through with its own title in 1994. 

Van Scyoc retired and turned over the program to his former player and longtime assistant, McClain, who added the next three state championships to the Rams’ resume.

Wes Huett is Journal Star sports editor. Email him at whuett@pjstar.com. Follow him on Twitter @WesHuett. Includes information from Journal Star archival stories.

Dick Van Scyoc coaching record

Here is the year-by-year coaching record for Dick Van Scyoc, who coached 45 seasons at Armington, Washington and Manual.

  • 1949-50 Armington 14-12
  • 1950-51 Armington 13-12
  • 1951-52 Washington 13-12
  • 1952-53 Washington 25-2
  • 1953-54 Washington 25-3
  • 1954-55 Washington 26-3
  • 1955-56 Washington 25-4
  • 1956-57 Washington 9-15
  • 1957-58 Washington 13-13
  • 1958-59 Washington 11-13
  • 1959-60 Washington 12-12
  • 1960-61 Washington 12-13
  • 1961-62 Washington 25-3
  • 1962-63 Washington 13-11
  • 1963-64 Washington 14-12
  • 1964-65 Washington 16-7
  • 1965-66 Washington 17-7
  • 1966-67 Manual 14-10
  • 1967-68 Manual 16-12
  • 1968-69 Manual 18-8
  • 1969-70 Manual 19-8
  • 1970-71 Manual 14-12
  • 1971-72 Manual 25-8
  • 1972-73 Manual 4-20
  • 1973-74 Manual 7-19
  • 1974-75 Manual 7-17
  • 1975-76 Manual 17-9
  • 1976-77 Manual 12-14
  • 1977-78 Manual 19-7
  • 1978-79 Manual 14-11
  • 1979-80 Manual 5-21
  • 1980-81 Manual 17-10
  • 1981-82 Manual 23-8
  • 1982-83 Manual 23-4
  • 1983-84 Manual 28-2
  • 1984-85 Manual 20-4
  • 1985-86 Manual 31-2
  • 1986-87 Manual 31-1
  • 1987-88 Manual 29-5
  • 1988-89 Manual 22-7
  • 1989-90 Manual 28-3
  • 1990-91 Manual 31-3
  • 1991-92 Manual 19-9
  • 1992-93 Manual 23-6
  • 1993-94 Manual 27-6
  • 27-24 in 2 seasons at Armington
  • 256-120 in 15 seasons at Washington
  • 543-246 in 28 seasons at Manual
  • 826-390 in 45 seasons overall