George Shimko Named 2016-2017 Girls Basketball Coach of the Year
To say that Queen of Peace closed its basketball history book on a high note would be an understatement. The Pride won 28 games in 2016-17. No Peace team had ever won more than 24.
It was quite a four-year journey to the top for coach George Shimko.
In Shimko's first season, Peace won just two games. They won eight in his second season, 19 in his third.
The final step was another big one by the Daily Southtown 2016-17 Girls Basketball Coach of the Year.
"We wanted to make Queen of Peace a competitive basketball program," Shimko said. "I felt that if we changed the culture, built a little bit at a time and got our players to buy into what we were doing, we could be competitive.
"I had no idea, though, that getting 19 wins last year and then 28 wins this year would be a reality. That was like the cherry on the top of a nice sundae."
Shimko has been teaching the game to boys and girls for the past two decades at his George Shimko Basketball School.
When he was hired at Peace in 2013, he took over a program that was in disarray. Numbers were down. More than players were missing, however. So was the fun factor.
Shimko remedied the latter in his first season, when he and assistants Alex Shimko and Mike Landstrom assured the seniors they would have a positive experience.
"We made the decision to keep the seniors because they were going to be in school every day," Shimko said. "We wanted those seniors to at least enjoy the game and learn a little bit."
The Pride won just two games. But the seven seniors were beaming when it was over.
"When we lost our last game we were in the locker room for almost an hour," Shimko said. "The kids talked about what a great experience the season was and how they were happy that we allowed them to try to grow and be a little bit better."
Developing a winning culture came next. That's where Shimko's daughter, Kara, entered the picture.
"She would get (to the gym) early and work on her own," he said. "The next thing you knew there were girls coming in wanting to join her.
"Jovanna (Martinucci) and Ashley (Lynch) wanted to play with Kara, and then there was (Ashley) Murphy and (Jessica) Potter and (Erin) Foley. They all bought into each other. That allowed them to work harder, and they could start to see the results."
Kara Shimko broke school scoring records while the Pride became one of the Southland's most successful teams. Foley, meanwhile, was one of several players who appreciated the coach's attitude as much as he appreciated theirs.
"Without his patience throughout the past couple of years, I would not be where I am now," Foley said. "The way he approaches people, not many coaches are able to do that. And it makes a difference."
The news in January that Queen of Peace was closing due to financial difficulties cast a shadow on the school. But the players vowed to stay strong and finished up in school record-setting fashion.
Shimko has been interviewed for the coaching position that will be opening up when St. Laurence accepts Queen of Peace students next year.
Foley, who will transfer for her senior season, would like see Shimko waiting at the door.
"I really hope so," Foley said. "That would be awesome. He has done so much at Queen of Peace, it would be awesome to see it transfer over to St. Laurence."