Posted by Steve Lettau on Jul 06, 2017

By JR Radcliffe

Joel Beard remembers the music he heard running out onto that floor.

"Our band was very good, and just being able to run out on the floor and play, making 3-pointers and the crowd holding up 3-point signs, that was pretty special at the time," said Beard, the current Beloit Memorial athletics director and a member of the Homestead basketball teams from 1991-95. "That was a really special group and a really special time for Homestead sports in general. We won a lot of big games on that floor."

For 17 seasons, including one memorable state semifinalist season in 1994, Homestead basketball teams led by coach John Chekouras piled up wins on the main gymnasium floor at Homestead High School. Now, that same gym floor will bear Chekouras’ name.

Just days after the 11-year anniversary of Chekouras’ sudden death, the Mequon-Thiensville school board approved a proposal by outgoing Superintendent Demond Means to re-name the floor after Chekouras.

"Coach Chekouras means a lot to me," Beard said. "I hurt my knee playing football in my senior year in high school, and he was one of the guys that really kept me going. He was really close to my family. My mom made him sweet potato pies every Thanksgiving. He gave me a card when I got hurt that said, 'Champions get up, even when they can't,' and I still have it on my desk. I put it in a frame."

The longtime Homestead educator and coach, who collapsed while running in June 2006 and ultimately passed away from symptoms of heart arrhythmia, has been annually remembered at the school by a showcase tournament that also bears his name.

“He still means a great deal to our community,” Means said. “He was more than a basketball coach; he was one of the leaders working with our students with special needs and physical education. … The thing that people didn’t know or see about John is that he really believed in ensuring all students had an opportunity. He worked with our special needs students and was really a champion for making sure that all students had an opportunity and strong educational experience.”

The Chekouras legacy includes a partnership he founded between Special Olympics and the Milwaukee Bucks, putting special-needs students and professional basketball players together in the same room. He started the Saturday Slammers youth program which Means called “one of the best development programs in the metro area.”

“He was an innovative guy,” Means said.

Hartford athletics director Scott Helms, a two-year varsity basketball player at HHS who played with Beard on the 1994 team that fell to Milwaukee King in the state semifinal, also coached with Chekouras later in life.

“I grew up in the community and saw the impact that John had not just at the high school level, but in the youth program that he developed with Saturday Slammers,” Helms said. “When I went into the Hartford athletics realm, I brought a lot of things that I learned from him.

“We packed that place,” Helms recalled of the main gym, where Homestead varsity basketball teams returned to play their games last year. “It was just an awesome atmosphere, so it’s awesome that they’re going to acknowledge him.”

Means said Chekouras’s signature will be imposed onto the court, and HHS also possesses a logo that it has used in the past displaying his initials.

"He was just one of those good dudes," Beard said. "He has a great family. It didn't matter who you were; they brought you into their family. It didn't matter your background or anything or if you moved into the district; that just didn't matter to them. He created that family atmosphere where we all had room to grow."