“I never did have a whole lot of height down there,” Norton said. ‘The tallest player I ever had at Buckley was — maybe — 6-1.”
Despite a lack of size, Norton found a way to leave his mark in Buckley. He led the small school to a record of 110-17 in his four seasons at the helm, including winning two regional championships, two conference championships and two Iroquois County tournament championships. After that, he moved on to coach at Clifton Central for 11 more seasons, amassing 191 more victories.
On Saturday, Norton was recognized for his achievements. He was inducted into the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame at a ceremony at Illinois State University in Bloomington — not as a coach but in a category he called “Friends of Basketball,” which recognizes those who were influential to the game in more ways than just wins and losses.
“It’s an honor ... I haven’t coached basketball for 50 years. Therefore anyone who was aware of my coaching are now gray-haired people,” Norton said with a laugh. “Therefore it’s a surprise.”
A deserved surprise, according to one of Norton’s former players.
“It was so fun. He was a good coach,” said Gene Stinebring, who played under Norton for three years at Buckley. “He had kids who played together since grade school, and he just knew how to handle us.
“We just jelled.”
Showing he still has a little coach left in him even in his older days, Norton deflected credit for Buckley’s success to his players. Upon beginning his coaching career there, he took over a group of underclassmen and helped them develop from there.
“I was very fortunate in Buckley,” said Norton, who still resides in Clifton. “I encountered a bunch of boys who were not only good athletes but intelligent kids. I started with an underclass group, and they did well. They were just a talented group of boys.”
“He’d have to shut the light out to get us out of the gym,” Stinebring added.
Some the standout players Norton recalls coaching at Buckley were Stinebring, Herb Kaufman, William Schuldt, Bob and Bill Weisenbarn, Marvin Dettmering and Ray Wells. It was always an enjoyment because Buckley was a “very loyal” town that “followed us wherever we went.”
Among Norton’s favorite memories of his time at Buckley were winning a tournament by stalling on offense, being successful against the bigger Paxton High School and having teams that would have been good enough to challenge for a state title if there had been a classification system back then. As it was, every team in the state competed in the same class when the postseason started, and one of his best teams fell to a Champaign school in sectionals.
“I had teams in Buckley that would’ve easily won the small-school state championship if we’d had a classification
system,” Norton said.