John Bellino coached at St. Bede Academy for 40 years, 36 as head baseball coach and 35 years as head football coach.
If he would have had his way, he’d probably still be coaching today.
On Saturday, Bellino will be inducted into the St. Bede Academy Hall of Fame, along with four other individuals and a state softball team, of the Class of 2018.
It will mark the first time he has returned to his alma mater since he hung up his whistle and taught his last class in the spring of 2015.
There is a sense of some reservations when I asked him what it meant to be inducted, because he wasn’t “thinking about school anymore.”
“I’m in the hall of fame for football and baseball in Illinois, and I think that’s a great honor. I don’t know how many coaches are in for two sports. This is just like culmination now,” he added.
“I’m hoping everything is kind of brushed over.”
Bellino, 68, and a graduate of the class of ’68 at SBA, said he misses coaching and was disappointed not being able to go out on his own terms.
“I understand more of now as for the reasons, I guess why. I was a little disappointed. I thought I could still coach even if I wasn’t teaching,” he said. “I thought we were doing a fine job there. When you get to be 65 years old, it’s time for people to move on.”
The old Bruins coach knows each week when the Friday Night Lights are turning on around north central Illinois and he still gets the itch to be there on the sidelines.
“I miss the coaching a lot,” he said. “I still talk to couple of guys who do the youth football. They ask questions all the time. I talk to some of their kids. I stay a little bit involved that way.
“I guess you just miss the competitiveness of trying to find an angle to beat the good teams. Just as simple as that. The hardest part for me, I reminder the losses more than the wins.”
I asked him, “You didn’t like to lose, did you?” already knowing the answer.
“No,” he said with a laugh.
But there were many more wins along the way than losses.
His Bruins baseball teams won 625 games (625-34-3) with 12 regional championships, two sectional championships and one state title (1988), returning to state four years later.
There were 176 more wins (176-161) on the gridiron. His Bruins went to the playoffs in each of his final five seasons, 10 of his last 12, and 16 times overall, including a 2A semifinals appearance in 2001.
He said there are too many highlights to just pick one.
“Obviously winning state baseball was a big thing. There was so many regional championships, big football games, beat Newman so many times, even going back to L-P. Forty years, there was so many.”
In a 2014 interview, Bellino told me when he first started out coaching, he had more of a love for baseball, but as time went on, he grew to love football even more.
“I think football became more of a passion,” he said. “It took more work to put a quality team on the field. You had to find ways to create and give yourself an edge.”
Bellino keeps busy now running the family’s business, Bellino’s Tap, in Standard, and “finding stuff to do all the time.”
A lot of that stuff remains as it’s always been — fishing and hunting, a pastime, he jokes, his wife, Susan, says he does too much of.
“I really go (hunting) because of my son’s dog. I enjoy doing that with the dog,” he said. “The fishing, I enjoy quite a bit. The problem is, there’s not a lot of places to go right in the middle of Illinois, and you have to travel all the time and that makes it difficult.”
These days, he still keeps track of what’s going on in sports.
“I still follow the football stuff as close as I can. There’s so many baseball games, I don’t follow. I follow the Friday night things,” he said, in reference to prep football.
But just from afar. While he talks to some of the coaches, like Bruins assistant Mike Bima, he hasn’t been to a St. Bede football game since his last game.
“I wouldn’t do that to Jim,” Bellino said about current head coach Jim Eustice, his successor and former assistant.
“If I could go back and just watch the game, I would. There’s going to be people talking to you and asking questions. Therefore, I wouldn’t do that,” he said.
He believes he can still coach. But would he want to?
“I still think I could coach, let’s put it that way. It wouldn’t matter where. … I’d have to think long and hard about that now,” he said.
And he wouldn’t want to lose.
• I’d like to congratulate John and all of this year’s Hall of Fame Class — Bernie Moore (coach and A.D.), Ron Creiger (posthumously from class of ’67), Gerry Novreske (class of 1997) and Mike Brown (Class of ’73 and supporter). Sadly, we will miss my good friend, the late Bill Prokup, whose Lady Bruins softball team went to state in 2013.
One other note on Bellino. He was the last of the head coaches in Bureau County to precede my arrival here in November of 1986. Guess, I’ve been here a long time.
Kevin Hieronymus is the BCR Sports Editor. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.