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Passing Of Ray Meyer

Sen. Barack Obama

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Mr. President, I rise today with sadness to note the passing of a college basketball icon, Ray Meyer, the longtime coach of the DePaul University Blue Demons. Mr. Meyer died on March 17 of congestive heart failure at age 92. Although we mourn his passing, I choose to celebrate the memory of a good and decent man and a quintessential Chicagoan.

Ray Meyer had a hardscrabble upbringing on the West Side of Chicago the youngest in a family of seven boys and three girls. His dad ran a wholesale candy business but died when young Ray was only 13. Finding an outlet in competitive sports--baseball, basketball, football, and wrestling--Ray Meyer started to make a name for himself at St. Agatha's Grade School, Quigley Preparatory Seminary, and St. Patrick's Academy.

Coach Ray's earliest mentoring skills led him to the love of his life--Margaret Mary Delaney--when a local priest cajoled Ray into assisting him with the St. Agatha's parish girls team. The ``Coach and Marge'' had a lifelong love affair in a marriage of 46 years that ended only with Marge's death in 1985 at age 72.

Earning a scholarship to Notre Dame under coach George Keogan, Ray Meyer had a distinguished collegiate career. He graduated on the honor roll with classmates including future Notre Dame president Theodore Hesburgh and future executive vice president Edmund Joyce. Graduating in 1938, Ray was the proud recipient of Notre Dame's Byron V. Kanaley Award for lettermen demonstrating the highest in academic achievement and leadership.

Following graduation, Meyer worked several jobs unrelated to his love of sports. Shortly after his marriage, Ray was offered the job of basketball coach at Joliet Catholic high school, but he refused when the school fell $100 short of his requirement for an $1,900 annual salary. But fate intervened when his former Notre Dame coach George Keogan suffered a heart attack and Ray was hired to fill in for the remainder of the 1940-41 season, staying on as an assistant to Keogan until 1942 when DePaul University came calling.

Early in his career, Coach Meyer was blessed with a bespectacled, gangly 6-foot-10-inch center named George Mikan. Mikan, who later was named the outstanding player of the first half of the 20th century, was awkward and inexperienced. Under Ray Meyer's tutelage and his own work ethic, George Mikan turned into a dominating force as one of the first true big men to excel at the college level.

In 1943, Mikan and his DePaul mates played in the 1943 NCAA tournament against the Georgetown Hoyas and a freshman reserve named Henry Hyde the same Henry Hyde who is just now serving his final term in the other body as a distinguished member of Congress from Illinois. In 1945, the Mikan-led Blue Demons won the National Invitational Tournament, which at the time was more prestigious than the NCAA tourney.

Coming to DePaul in 1942, Coach Ray stayed 42 years on the sidelines and another 13 as the colorful radio broadcaster for the games of the school he loved, then coached by his former player and son, Joey Meyer. Ray Meyer's list of coaching accomplishments is truly impressive: 724 victories at 1 school; 55 years of attending all of DePaul's 1,467 games; 37 winning seasons; an NIT title in 1945; NCAA Final Four teams in 1943 and 1979; and membership in the Basketball Hall of Fame. DePaul University recognized the role of Coach and his wife as ambassadors in its expansion to the largest Catholic University in the United States. DePaul named in its campus Fitness and Recreation Center after the coach and the floor at its home court, Allstate Arena, as the ``Ray and Marge Meyer Court.'' Coach Meyer was not only good, he was resourceful. For many years, his recruiting budget was minimal. Enticing promising players to come to a school in the shadow of the North Side ``L'' was difficult. Finding housing for players near a campus with little student housing at that time was also a challenge. Sometimes, the players were fed from the Meyer kitchen or some extra meal tickets at the Roma on the corner of Sheffield and Webster, where they could enjoy a great Italian beef sandwich. But Coach was imaginative and diligent. He used both qualities to establish and operate a basketball camp in Three Lakes, WI, for 55 summers.

Ray Meyer left an impact on all of his players. He had some great ones Mikan, Jim Lamkin, Howie Carl, Dave Corzine, Mark Aguirre, Rod Strickland, Terry Cummings, and Dallas Comegys, among others. But he had an incalculable impact on his school, his family and friends, Chicago, the Midwest and the Nation. Hall of Fame coach and native Chicagoan, Mike Krzyzewski, may have said it best:

Coach Meyer casts a large shadow on the game of college basketball. . . . He truly loved the game and the kids he coached. It was so evident. In each game that he coached and each game that he announced. I love him. He served as a great example of what a coach should be.''

To his children sons Tom, Joey, Bob and daughters Barbara and Pat and his 18 grandchildren, I send my most heartfelt condolences, and I ask my colleagues to join me in celebrating the life and memory of a wonderful human being, Coach Ray Meyer.