The 2022-23 season was a very difficult one for the Oak Park and River Forest High School varsity girls basketball team as the Huskies won just two of their 33 games.
Afterwards, head coach Carlton Rosemond stepped down after two years. OPRF Athletic Director Nicole Ebsen took her time finding Rosemond’s replacement, and the District 200 Board of Education approved the hiring of George Shimko at its meeting June 22.
“It’s awesome. I feel very grateful and lucky, and I want to thank Nicole for this opportunity,” Shimko said in an interview with Wednesday Journal. “I’m looking forward to it.”
Shimko comes from St. Laurence, where he established the girls basketball program after the school became coed in 2017. In six seasons, he guided the Vikings to a 94-80 record.
Prior to that, Shimko coached for four years at Queen of Peace, the now-shuttered all-girls school that formerly stood directly east of St. Laurence. During his first season, the Pride won just two games, but in his fourth season, which was also Queen of Peace’s last, they won a school-record 28.
OPRF has struggled over the last several years, with its last winning season coming in 2015-16, when the Huskies finished 17-14. But Shimko said he’ll use his experiences at both Queen of Peace and St. Laurence to try to reverse the Huskies’ fortunes.
“The opportunity sounded great to me,” he said. “I have a history of building up programs, and I want to do something productive at OPRF.”
A 1974 graduate of St. Rita High School, Shimko, 66, still plays competitive basketball. At last year’s Huntsman World Senior Games in St. George, Utah, he helped lead his team, Total Package, to the silver medal in the 65-plus division. In the final, Shimko scored 18 points and dished out 10 assists. This came after a 23-point, 12-assist effort in the semifinal.
He is also founder of the George Shimko Basketball School. Entering its’30th year, the school has helped over 1,500 male and female players improve their skills.
“My background helps me with my coaching,” Shimko said. “I got cut in high school, not making the varsity. But I was the only player to get a scholarship [to St. Xavier University]. Then playing overseas [with Vejas, a Toronto-based team] against the Russian national team. I’ve used those experiences to understand what players have to go through to get better.”
Shimko said he wants to build a culture in which players and coaches are striving toward a collective goal.
“It’s not about me, it’s about we,” Shimko said. “It’s about what we can do together that allows us to do great things, and that’s always been my philosophy as a player, coach, and teacher.”
And, that’s not just for the varsity level. Shimko wants to develop all of his players, at each program level.
“I’ve always looked at a program as one unit, not as varsity, sophomore or freshman teams,” he said. “The idea is to build as one and watch the girls grow from freshmen into upperclassmen. Then it’s on the upperclassmen to teach the underclassmen what it’s like to reach the varsity. If you get the players to understand how important it is to see each other do well, that’s how you build a solid program.”
Shimko said it’s going to require some patience to turn around the Huskies. He’d like to see the program take baby steps forward this coming year and will encourage the best female student-athletes to come out for the team.
“At a school this size, there are a lot of athletes that didn’t want to play basketball for whatever reason,” said Shimko. “I want to show them it’s going to be a great environment for players to come in and enjoy the sport. There’s absolutely a place for multi-sport athletes, and we can build something solid to be proud of.”