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By Brad Spencer
What has Pat McKune been doing since 1981, the year he pitched a no hitter in the state quarterfinals to help lead the OPRF High School baseball team to a championship?
Well, he's been playing a lot of catch with his son Joe. And now the elder McKune can dig out his high school state championship medal from the attic, dust it off, and hang it alongside his son's bright and shiny one of the same kind.
Pat McKune was nearly speechless after watching his son's team edge West Suburban (Silver) Conference foe Lyons Township 4-3 to win the Class 4A State championship at Silver Cross Field in Joliet on Saturday.
"I can't believe it. I'm just so proud of him," said Pat looking over at his son, who was ensconced in congratulatory hugs from family and friends. "It's a pretty cool thing seeing your son experience what you experienced at this age."
It was 31 years ago that Pat was on the mound shutting out Lincoln as the Huskies won 11-0 in the state quarterfinals — what would now be the supersectional. On Friday in the semifinal, it was Joe who pitched a gem against Fox Lake's Grant to lead the Huskies to an 8-2 win.
"To only win it twice [in three decades] and to have me and my dad experience it is just sweet," said Joe, who finished 7-2 on the season with an ERA of 1.60 and is headed to Carthage College to play golf in the fall. "He put a baseball in my hand at the age of 2 and ever since then we have been throwing. We would play catch every day, and that's why I got into pitching. That's one of the reasons my arm is so strong."
The McKunes weren't the only father-son duo to experience the glory of winning high school state titles in the same sport on Saturday. Somewhere in the stands at Silver Cross, Rick Rumoro was sitting with his 1981 state medal in his pocket throughout the finals. His son, also named Joe, was a senior relief pitcher for the Huskies this season.
"It makes this game all the more special for them," said OPRF head coach Chris Ledbetter of the father-son connections before his team took the field for the championship. "I want this for them and for all our players."
The win was also special for Ledbetter, a three-sport athlete at OPRF in the late 1980s. He grew up without a father in his life. Now, with four state final appearances, two second place finishes and a state title, he's following in the footsteps of his predecessor and one-time father figure, Jack Kaiser, OPRF's legendary baseball coach who passed away in 2000. It was Kaiser who coached Pat McKune and Rick Rumoro and the rest of the '81 Huskies to a state title.
You could see it in Ledbetter's eyes right before an IHSA official put the first place medal around his neck. The exuberance was stirring. To hell with dignified composure. He couldn't hold it in any longer. Ledbetter raised both fists in the air and hollered, "Yeeaaaaah!" The people in the stands and his team erupted. When he was handed the first place trophy, he hefted it in the air and made a B-line right for his players, who nearly knocked him to the ground with joy.
Perhaps someday down the road, one of them will watch a son celebrate the same high school athletic milestone.