Before the Benton High School basketball team runs through the tunnel located below the home bleachers of Rich Herrin Gymnasium, head coach Ron Winemiller reminds his players not to take any moment for granted because there’s not many facilities like it in the area.
The gymnasium is named after the legendary coach Rich Herrin, who began coaching the Rangers in 1960 before his older brother Ron took over as coach in 1985. During those 25 years, Rich posted a record of 521 wins and 192 losses with teams in ‘65, ‘66 and ‘70 that notched the 30-win total. The same ‘65 and ‘66 teams matched Rich’s ‘74 club that only suffered one loss in each of those years.
After leaving the high school, Rich decided to take over as SIU’s basketball coach in 1985. Rich went on to lead the Salukis to four NIT tournaments and three NCAA tournaments that included five 22-plus win seasons during that seven-year span.
Rich emphasized the word “fortunate” for everything that basketball has given him. Now at 87-years of age, Rich spoke about his time as a child playing basketball and some of the struggles that came with recruiting athletes to SIU.
“I remember being outside a lot with my older brother Ron growing up and shooting baskets on the hoop my dad attached to our family barn,” said Herrin. “I still miss my brother Ron, who passed away 20 years ago. I would always go to him for his wits because he was always reading and I owe him my basketball knowledge.”
During his 13-year run as coach of the Salukis, Rich finished with a record of 225-174 with a 111-107 against the Missouri Valley Conference. Schools such as Creighton, Wichita State, Tulsa, and a Hersey Hawkins led Bradley team caused problems for the Salukis during the 90’s.
Recruiting players to come join his SIU team remains one of the biggest coaching challenges Rich was forced to face.
“What I went through during those first couple years of coaching was difficult because it was tough selling athletes to come play in Carbondale,” said Herrin. “I didn’t get any of the players I wanted in the month of January during my first year at SIU. There were 27 days where I wasn’t home because I was coaching and trying to recruit players.”
Rich persevered and has left a legacy on many people in the area. He still visits Benton games and practices, but health has been his family's main concern since Rich suffered a stroke last July.
Thankfully, Rich didn’t suffer any paralysis and can still talk with one of his former players, Matt Wynn.
“I played for Rich back when I went to high school at Benton and was fortunate to have him as a college coach at SIU,” said Wynn. “We still talk on a weekly basis and he remains one of the nicest guys you could ever speak with. He mumbles a lot, but we could always understand him as players based on his tone.”
Wynn coached Benton’s basketball team for seven seasons before Winemiller took over in 2009. One thing that remains for both coaches is that Rich Herrin Gym hasn’t changed a bit since hosting its first game in the early 1970’s.
Rich Herrin Gym is famous for its unique build and structure. The East Gym is the school’s original gymnasium and still in use for gym classes, lower level games and other events as overflow dictates.
Rich Herrin Gym includes upper level seating and bleacher seating in the lower bowl, which is perfect for big events such as Benton’s annual Holiday Basketball Tournament. Current athletes can look up to the rafters and see championship banners from their fathers' teams hanging before them.
“It’s a great facility for a big-game atmosphere,” said Winemiller. “Coach Herrin brought so much style to Benton basketball and there’s not many places you can say the person your facility is named after is still alive. That’s a big part of what makes it special.”
The East Gym has since given way to a new facility where the girl’s volleyball team plays their home games. Winemiller is now in his 11th season coaching the Rangers and has only seen renovations of the westside bleachers being replaced by a new weight room.
Coach Herrin has been around Winemiller and his family since Winemiller was a kid, when he was still learning from the same man who coached his three uncles during their high school days in Benton.
“Everybody has a different story and background,” said Winemiller. “Rich used to be able to sit in his office and still have a view of the basketball court. He’s always been great at treating people fairly, and as a young guy I tried spending as much time learning from legends like Rich.”
Be the first to know
Get local news delivered to your inbox!