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Wharrie remembers successful area teams

He's successful, he's personable and he's Grundy County born and raised.

He's Mr. Larry Wharrie, prominent local attorney from Coal City. Larry has been very successful in sports, accounting, law or most importantly — a terrific family man.

Wharrie always has time to talk to people of all walks of life, be it social or business time. His parents are Milton and Pat Wharrie and he has a brother and a sister. All his family still live in Coal City with the exception of his mother, who passed away several years ago.

Larry has been married 34 years to his wife, Shirley (Valiente), and has three children Justin, Ryan and Jenna. His son Ryan just finished Law School in San Diego and is in the process of taking the Illinois bar exam. Justin also graduated from college and Jenna is presently in college.

I remember Larry and all the Coaler teams through the years as my old colleague, Jim Murray, and I were on the scene for many area games. Larry reminisced about his playing days in basketball, "Bob Born was our center on the team my senior year and he was 6'5” and a big man in those days. The starting forwards were Doug Wills along with Herb Enger or Brad Born. I was a guard and the other guard was Jim Triner. That's the team from 1971."

I mentioned the fact that Doug Wills was one of the finest players to come out of this area. Larry commented on Wills, "The thing I remember about Doug was his competitive nature. He's known mostly for his shooting ability and in those days we did not even have a three-point shot. Doug averaged in excess of 20 points, both his junior and senior seasons. If we had the three-point shot, he probably would have averaged 30 to 35 points a game. He liked that long deep shot from the wing."

Larry also reminded me that 1971 was the last year of the one-class basketball system in Illinois. Wharrie said Seneca was probably the big rival in his days at Coal City with all games going right to the end. Braidwood was also a tough game along with Gardner-South Wilmington.

When talking of GSW, Larry mentioned Billy Gerrish, one of his friends and also one of the great players from this area. Later when Larry went to college at Lewis University (then college), he and Gerrish roomed together and played ball at the school, Larry in baseball and Billy in basketball.

Gerrish later transferred to St. Francis and had his number (32) retired in basketball. Larry said he and Gerrish used to talk about shooting free throws. Wharrie said he believes that he still has the Coal City record of free throws, hitting 37 consecutive shots. He said Gerrish hit 55 straight charity tosses in college ball. Gerrish and Wills were both MVP in the Coal Valley Conference during high school.

As far as memories go, Larry said he remembers playing Reddick in a regional tournament game. The game went into overtime and Wharrie hit a shot at the buzzer to win the game and sending the Coalers into the regional championship game. He also recalls beating Seneca in the CVC title game when in the closing seconds Coal City was leading by one point. The Irish put up a shot and missed. Wharrie got the rebound and was fouled. He proceeded to hit both free throws to ice the game and the championship, 34-31.

When Wharrie played baseball at Coal City, once again the competition was fierce in the area. Mazon-Verona-Kinsman had Dan Arnold, who played college ball in Arizona. Wharrie said he won the batting championship at Coal City his junior year and the pitching trophy his senior year. Doug Wills won the awards on alternating years.

Larry said he also remembers playing Morris in baseball, which was always a great rivalry, in the regional championship at Morris. Larry added, "Chuck Butterfield was pitching for Morris and he was a really good fireballer in those days. I remember Jon Siron was one of the great players for Morris on that team.

Late in the game, I believe in the sixh inning of a seven-inning game, we were down 2-1 with two men on base. I remember hitting a deep line shot to left center field when Morris' center fielder Bill (Shockie) Cheshareck ran for the ball, dove and came up with the ball as if he caught it and the umpire called me out. I thought for sure "Shockie" had trapped the ball. And to this day whenever I see him, I ask him if he trapped that ball. All he ever said was, "I think I caught it” with a smile and a wink. Jon Siron later played at the University of Illinois on a baseball scholarship and one year was all Big Ten at shortstop.

Wharrie moved onto Lewis College, later renamed Lewis University, and studied accounting. At the time Larry was at Lewis, it went from an all-male school to co-ed. He knew that he wanted to study law, so he took extra classes and summer school in order to finish in three years. He was to begin his accounting career with Marvin Smith but the day he was to start, he was accepted into law school and never was able to work as an accountant.

After graduating from law school, he was hired into the Cook County State's Attorney's office. The State's Attorney was Richard Daley (the same Richard Daley now Mayor of Chicago). Wharrie got the opportunity to work into a newly-formed special prosecution bureau that was probably the most important bureau to Daley and that was gang prosecution. At that time, it was an all-out gang war in Chicago.

The murder rate was in excess of 1,000 per year in comparison to current rate of 300 to 400 per year. Daley directed Wharrie to specialize in the El Rukn gang in Chicago, one of the most notorious gangs in the city. Wharrie said this gang was very structured, sophisticated and military type of gang. The El Rukns were formerly called the Blackstone Rangers.

The bureau put together murder indictments on 40 gang members. Wharrie was designated a special U.S. State's Attorney for two years, aiding them against the El Rukns. Almost the entire gang was put away (Prison) including their leader, Jeff Fort, who is serving 60 to 80 years in the state courts and consecutive sentences also in the federal courts.

After 10 years in the so- called war zone, Larry said it was time to come home to Coal City and raise his family. He joined his good friend and mentor, Jim Fleming, who had a very successful law practice. He is very happy to be home and many, many people in this area are glad he decided to come home. Mr. Larry Wharrie, one of Grundy Counties finest.

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