Will it really be 10 years this spring?

Yes, amazingly, it has.

If you press him hard, long-time Homestead boys assistant basketball coach Steve O'Brien will tell you there isn't a day where in some form or another he doesn't turn his head one way or the other for a moment, stare off into the distance and think about his late mentor and good, good friend John Chekouras, who passed away surprisingly in 2006.

Chekouras, husband, father, teacher, promoter of youth basketball, advocate of Special Education/Olympics and, of course, basketball coach for many, many years at Homestead, still casts a large shadow at the school and in the community and is still remembered fondly by many people.

For years, to honor his memory, there has been a traditional four-team, semifinal/championship holiday boys basketball tournament the Highlanders have hosted with his name on it. But it was running a little short on energy in recent years, and it was also running headlong into the hoops juggernaut that is the three-day Wisconsin Basketball Yearbook Classic at nearby Concordia University that is held virtually at the same time.

'To be honest, it took me more time to put together that one four-team tournament than to put together the rest of our nonconference schedule,' said current boys coach Kevin McKenna.

So McKenna and others came up with a new idea.

'We approached the family, and I talked to Kira (Testin, Chekouras' daughter) about doing it a different way,' said McKenna, 'and she said in essence, 'Anything you can do to keep our father's name on it would be great.''

McKenna and other officials at Homestead then talked to Mark Miller, founder and editor of the Basketball Yearbook and guru of that aforementioned holiday hoops showcase, for any ideas that he might have.

'We wanted to do it as a classic, a showcase, branch off what the WBY does,' McKenna said. 'I called him (Miller) once. I didn't have to call him a second time.'

Working with Miller and the WBY, Homestead officials said the idea took off like a rocket and has just blossomed.

'It was amazing,' McKenna said. 'We had only one team switch out of the original blueprint. Putting all this together has taken half the time the original tournament did.'

So on Saturday, Feb. 6, the Chekouras Classic will be born anew as a six-game showcase series in the Homestead Fieldhouse, starting at 11 a.m. with The Prairie School taking on Winnebago Lutheran and ending with Oak Creek against Waukesha North at 7:45 p.m.

The host Highlanders will take on powerful Dominican at 6 p.m.

'Duke and North Carolina were otherwise occupied,' quipped O'Brien at the difficulty of the Highlanders' task.

McKenna said the idea is to grow the tourney in the future.

O'Brien, who has been an assistant for Chekouras and for various other Highlander basketball coaches, is ecstatic about the idea, and he thinks his old boss and friend would be, too.

'It's just coming together as a very nice day to honor John,' O'Brien said. 'It'll be a fun day with quality teams. Frankly, anything to honor John is a great thing for the school, his family and for high school basketball in general.'

McKenna agrees. He was on the phone discussing the new tourney and watching a recent session of the Slammers youth basketball program that Chekouras helped found decades ago.

'That (the Slammers program) is just a tribute to his memory,' he said.

There will likely be a small ceremony involving the family around the time of the Homestead game, though nothing formal has been set yet. They've always been involved in the tournament in one way or another, as well as being involved in the lives of all those who had a part in the success of the basketball program.

O'Brien noted that Chekouras' involvement with the special education students rivaled his passion for basketball. He always tried to bring them into the hoops program whenever feasible.

Case in point, in 1998, he had a manager for the team named Jeff Kummer who was born with a medical condition that was supposed to end his life before the end of high school. But Kummer outlived expectations greatly until his condition finally caught up with him early this past December.

There were some extraordinary turns involved with that story that brought tears to O'Brien's eyes. A few weeks before Kummer's passing, his stepfather, Gregg Jehlik, formally adopted him. In turn, the basketball program remembered one of its own and wanted to honor Kummer/Jehlik's memory.

O'Brien said the Kummer/Jehlik family lives in Oklahoma these days, and it was hard to get everyone in one place at one time, so a memorial service was recently held in the Mequon area. O'Brien said several of the basketball players of the time came to take part, and four different people spoke glowing tributes of Kummer/Jehlik.

It was another part of Chekouras' legacy, said O'Brien, who knew that his old friend always wanted people to be as happy as they could be.

'We had a lot of laughs that day,' O'Brien said. 'There were a few tears of course but mostly laughs. It was a good day.'

Just like Feb. 6 hopefully will be.


One day hoops extravaganza to honor the late coach

SCHEDULE (all games at the Homestead Fieldhouse)

11 a.m.—Prairie School vs. Winnebago Lutheran; 12:45 p.m.—Milwaukee Messmer vs. Appleton Xavier; 2:30 pm—Catholic Memorial vs. Manitowoc Roncalli; 4:15—Waterford vs. Port Washington; 6 p.m.—Homestead vs. Dominican; 7:45 p.m.—Oak Creek vs. Waukesha North