Jim Doner and Mike Vories weren’t familiar with their first-year coach Jack Tosh when the 1967-68 basketball season started at DeKalb High School.
But by the end of the year, they both knew he was the right man for the job.
“He was a good man and he was fun to play for,” Vories said. “He wasn’t a real screamer or anything, unless it had to be done. He was a fun guy to be around and really enjoyed life.”
Tosh was the sophomore boys coach at Evanston High School before coming to DeKalb in 1967 to take his first position as a head coach. That year he helped lead the Barbs to a fourth-place finish at the state tournament, still the best finish a DeKalb boys basketball team has ever had.
Tosh died Feb. 11, more than 40 years after the Barbs’ magical run to the state tournament. Yet the memories of that year, when the Barbs finished 29-4 and also tied for the Upstate Eight Conference title, are still fresh for many of those players.
“I remember everything about the season,” Doner said. “He always told us to be ourselves. ... He wasn’t overly demanding, we had to follow certain rules of course and he’d kick you around the gym a little bit, but like most coaches was flexible with us.”
For one reason or another Jim Doner didn’t see much playing time under DeKalb’s previous coach. But when Tosh came to DeKalb, Doner saw it as an opportunity for a fresh start and a change to get off the bench.
Doner and Tosh hit it off and Doner became the Barbs’ starting guard.
“He was just a very nice man, very nice gentleman,” Doner said. “He had the type of values that most of us in DeKalb at the time had.”
Joe Hart never got a chance to play under Tosh after graduating from DeKalb in 1967, just months before Tosh began his coaching career at the high school.
But Hart got to know Tosh in the following years, working for the Daily Chronicle as a sports reporter and talking with Tosh after DeKalb basketball games. The two would keep in touch even after both left the DeKalb area.
“He was a very friendly guy, very approachable,” Hart said. “He had a great sense of humor and he really loved to sit around and tell stories, talk sports.”
Tosh earned his undergrad and graduate degrees at Northwestern University. He played baseball there and also for the Marines.
Tosh moved on to York High School in Elmhurst in the mid-1970s and then retired in 1990 after serving as the school’s basketball coach and athletic director. He is an honored member of the Illinois Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame and is the namesake of the annual holiday “Tosh Tournament.”