Jeff Manes: Ohio native calls Boone Grove home
August 10, 2012 4:50PM
Rollie Thill of Porter Township is a math teacher and baseball coach at Boone Grove High School. | Photo provided
Updated: September 13, 2012 6:01AM
“... I am the man your father was
We are the sons of flint and pitch ... .”
— Dylan Thomas
Rollie Thill roots for The Ohio State University and teaches algebra, geometry and statistics, but that doesn’t make him a bad person.
The native Buckeye also is Boone Grove High School’s varsity baseball coach and has become a devout Chicago White Sox fan.
Thill, 43, lives in Porter Township and is married to Valerie; they have three children — Jared, 18; Alexia, 16, and Payton, and 10.
“I grew up north of Columbus (Ohio) in a town called Mount Gilead,” Thill began.
Gilead; that sounds familiar. Is that from the Bible?
“Yes, it’s biblical. Mount Gilead is about twice the size of Hebron. Our high school was about the size of Boone Grove.”
As a kid, were you a Cincinnati Reds fan?
“I was more of an American League fan. But I was invited by the Reds organization for a free-agent tryout while I was still in high school; it was at old Riverfront Stadium.”
How did that turn out?
“At that point in time, you had to throw 95 (mph) — plus. I was a pitcher, not a thrower. They were just looking for freaks of nature who could throw hard.”
Rollie, back in the ’70s, I could’ve won 20 games for The Big Red Machine; talk about a batting order.
“It was pretty neat; the day I tried out, I saw George Foster, Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez ... .”
Speaking of the ’70s, I remember a union rep named “Honest” Jack Thill from Local 1010.
“No relation. My great-grandfather was from a small town in southern Wisconsin. His parents were determined that he would become a priest.
“My great-grandfather said ‘no thanks’ and moved over to the next town, where he changed his name to Thill. Our real name was Breyer, like the ice cream.
Were you a three-sport athlete in high school?
“Actually, I ended up being a four-sport athlete. I played football, basketball and golf. I played golf in college when my elbow got sore.”
What college did you attend?
“Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill., where the (Chicago) Bears have their training facility.”
Really? My cousin, Diane Marcotte, who lives in Momence, Ill., went to Olivet. I was born at St. Mary’s Hospital in Kankakee, Ill.
“Nice. My two oldest children were born at Riverside Hospital in Kankakee, on the other side of the river from St. Mary’s.”
You received a scholarship to pitch for Olivet.
“Yes, but I was taking too many pain relievers for the elbow and had to give it up my sophomore year.”
What was your win-loss record in high school?
“I was 37-6. We went to the Final Four my sophomore year, and about the same my junior year.”
Were you a three-year starter?
“A four-year starter. One of the first weekends of the season, the varsity coach called me up to play in a doubleheader. I was sitting the bench when the coach said, ‘Get ready; you’re going in as a relief pitcher.’
“We were down 4-1. I did what I knew how to do — pitch. We ended up winning 6-4. Sure enough, in the second game of that doubleheader, we had a little bit of a lead, and coach said, ‘Get ready.’ So, I got a win and a save in my varsity debut.
“Later, he called me and my junior varsity coach into the office and said: ‘I have some good news and some bad news. The bad news is, Thill is never gonna pitch for you again. The good news is, son, you’re on the varsity team from here on out.’”
Could you hit?
“I had a lifetime .455 (batting) average.”
What was your favorite sport in high school?
“Football, and I love reffing basketball.”
Did you meet your wife at Olivet?
“Yes, I did. We lived in that area for five years. I taught at a school called Herscher.”
Small world; I’ve been working on a documentary film about the Grand Kankakee Marsh for more than three years. One of our producers, Tom Desch, graduated from Herscher High School.
“I remember Tom; his father was an English teacher at Herscher High. While teaching at Herscher, my wife and I were trying to move to either Ohio, near my parents, or Northwest Indiana, near Valerie’s parents. Valerie is from Porter County. Nothing was happening, so I stopped applying.”
“During the spring season, Valerie’s grandmother passed away. I taught half a day, then drove from Herscher to Porter County for the visitation.
“As I was coming up (Indiana) 2, I pulled into the Boone Grove High School parking lot. I asked to speak to the principal. Then, I asked him if there was a chance he had a math job available. He said, ‘As a matter of fact, there is a position open for a math teacher.’ I didn’t apply or anything; I got the job.”
How long have you been the varsity coach at Boone Grove?
“I just finished my 10th season this spring.”
What is the Wolves’ record under your regime?
“We are 210-93.”
“We’ve won four sectionals, two regionals and advanced to the Final Four and lost in the second game of the semistate to Bishop Luers (of Fort Wayne). I believe that was the year Luers won all three — football, basketball and baseball state championships.”
Anything else, Coach Thill?
“If it wasn’t for my wife, I wouldn’t have had the success I’ve had. Valerie is an awesome supporter. She has to deal with the good times at home and the bad times.
“If we have a bad game, I try to leave it on the field. But sometimes, it doesn’t happen and I bring it home. Valerie can always tell. As soon as I walk into the house she’ll know whether we won or lost. Believe me, if there’s a good coach, there’s a good woman behind him.”
Personally, I’d rather take a sharp stick to the eye than sit through Mr. Thill’s algebra class. But I’ve enjoyed covering several Boone Grove baseball games with Coach Thill at the helm.
And you can be sure that Thill’s boys play the game the way it was meant to be played — hard, but clean.