Forest Park grad steps down as coach


EVANSVILLE — Rick Wilgus doesn’t want to say he’s retiring. Rather, he sees himself as walking away.

The 1975 Forest Park graduate made his decision on Tuesday to step down as head boys basketball coach at Evansville Memorial. Wilgus departs after 38 seasons split between North Posey and Memorial. He went a combined 426-418 in his tenure, winning four sectional championships as coach of the Tigers.

Wilgus coached his last game on March 7 when he led Memorial to a sectional runner-up finish at Boonville.

“I just really felt it was a good time for me to walk away,” Wilgus said.

The former Ranger noted a culmination of things that largely stemmed from the COVID-19 outbreak. Wilgus cited the last nine weeks of school and not being able to be in contact with his players. High school facilities being shut down, along with the uncertainty of the near future and beyond, also contributed to his departure.

He played both basketball and baseball at Forest Park. Wilgus’ last high school basketball game came was in the triple overtime game in the 1975 sectional championship against Jasper. The Rangers finished as runners-up. He did, however, win a sectional championship with the baseball team that year.

Wilgus played both sports under coach Jim Peacock, whom he cited as an influence.

“Coach Peacock’s been a mentor,” he said. “Granted, at that point, we were teenagers, young men, and as Coach Peacock passed to me, when you get involved in coaching, you just want to play a part in the development of young men. Sure, sports specific, I get, but the determination, the hard work, the respect for the game is by far more important than wins and losses, and that’s what I learned from Coach Peacock.”
He never won a sectional championship with North Posey, and the Vikings’ last title in 1966 remains their only one. However, he praised some of the good teams he had at North Posey, and felt the relationships with the players that didn’t win a sectional were just as valuable as a championship. Wilgus finally broke through with Memorial in 2008, and won three more in 2015, 2016 and 2019.

Wilgus saw changes during his time as a coach, and he had to adjust accordingly. He knew he had to adapt and set standards. Some things were negotiable to him, but the emphasis of hard work, determination and respect of the game were all non-negotiable in his eyes.

He could not say, though, what’s next for him.

“I’ve had a lot of support from my wife (Tonya) of almost 40 years, who’s a Dubois County person as well, Forest Park grad,” Wilgus said. “I got two sons (Trace and Trev) married. I don’t really know. I don’t have any plans, but I’ve had a really, really good supporting cast and just a lot of Tuesday, Friday, Saturday nights in a gym that I owe a lot to them as well.”

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