'We're all about tradition in Galesburg.' For 1st time, 3 head coaches all GHS graduates
GALESBURG — This marks the second year of a somewhat historic and unique era at Galesburg High School.
Silver Streaks tradition reigns at the school and it now can boast an aspect of that legacy that has never existed before.
For the first time ever, the coaches of the three major boys sports teams are GHS alumni.
The hiring of football coach Derrek Blackwell and basketball coach Chad Thompson in 2021 formed that trio with baseball coach Jeremy Pickrel who has held his job since 2017.
"It's pretty interesting," said GHS athletic director Eric Matthews, who admitted he didn't realize the distinction his hirings had created.
But the three coaches are well aware of their exclusive status.
"I've been wanting someone to do a story on it," Blackwell said. "I think it's cool. It's neat."
"Actually we talk about it quite a bit," Pickrel said.
"Anytime we talk about looking back, we say, 'Here we are. We came back and are head coaches in the sports we played.' "
All 5 starters of the GHS basketball team were Divsion I athletes
A 2001 graduate of GHS, Pickrel is the elder statesman of the three, but played on the same Streaks' basketball team with Blackwell, a 2003 grad.
With Geoff Faulk as coach, Pickrel noted one often forgotten fact from that 2001 team which won a regional.
"All five starters were Division I athletes," he reminded. "I went to Illinois State for baseball, Jordan Watson to Evansville for basketball, Ryan Kohl to Eastern Illinois for baseball, Ryan Walker to Southern Illinois for basketball and Derrek to Western Illinois for football."
But Pickrel, who played pro baseball in the Twins organization, has Streaks' roots running deeper than that.
Streaks roots run deep for all three coaches
"My grandfather (Ray Pickrel) has been pretty involved with Galesburg athletics for as long as I can remember," said said of the longtime Streaks booster.
"He was on the football chain gang, and I was the ball boy. From early childhood, the Silver Streaks were ingrained in me."
Blackwell also got hooked on the Streaks as a youngster.
"I've attended games for as long as I remember, my mom played volleyball and my dad played basketball.
"I remember going to old Van Dyke Field, and we'd go out behind the bleachers during games and I'd emulate Romando Randle or the Pugh twins."
Thompson's grandfather Knox College, Galesburg icon Harley Knosher
Thompson, the youngster in the trio as a 2011 graduate, admits he was a later arrival to the Streaks family but he had another major influence in his life. His grandfather, Harley Knosher, is a Knox College and Galesburg icon who coached and served as athletic director at the college for 40 years.
"My first real taste of basketball was at Knox College with my grandpa, but I was a big hockey guy," recalled Thompson of his youth, which included playing baseball.
"I didn't fall in love with baskeball until late junior high and early high school.
"I remember watching Zach Ricketts dunk a basketball in practice and I was almost as tall as him so I knew I was close to doing that," he said.
Coach Mike Reynolds a mentor for Coach Thompson
Thompson played for coach Mike Reynolds at GHS and after graduating from Monmouth College, returned to work as an assistant for Reynolds and for his successor Ryan Hart.
"Being able to come back after my college years and help out, it was just special," Thompson said. "Coach Reynolds was a a mentor for me when he found out what I wanted to do."
Returning to coach is a special feeling
Pickrel and Blackwell also talked about the special feeling that returning home to coach leaves with them.
"It still hasn't hit me yet," said Blackwell, who served as a Streaks assistant for 12 years. "It's something I love to do. It's just fun.
"It's like when I was an assistant and I got my first paycheck. I was wondering, 'Why am I getting paid for coaching football?' "
Pickrel, previously head coach at Abingdon-Avon for four years, admits of the Streaks' job, "I always hoped it would happen.
"Once I graduated and decided I wanted to be a teacher and coach I thought 'Wouldn't it be cool to coach back at GHS?' "
It's happened for all three and sure seems to be a win-win-win situation for all three.
Coaching with a hometown advantage
"I think it's an advantage for sure," said Matthews of the hometown connection.
"They know the community, they know the types of kids we have and their all from here. They can make relationships easier that someone coming from the outside.
"Hopefully, the kids will look up to them."
All three have coaching staffs dominated by other Galesburg alumni.
"We're all about tradition in Galesburg," said Pickrel.
"And what a better way to express it that with three guys who lived and breathed it?"
He added, "We got some Galesburg guys in here who know the tradition and pride we had in putting on the Silver Streak uniform."
And Thompson on his way to expanding that influence even more.
This summer, he was named head boys cross country coach, too.