Cimo a champ in 'Bama

By DAVE PARKER dparker@scn1.com


Former Joliet Catholic High School baseball standout Matt Cimo is making a name as an accomplished high school coach.

The 47-year-old Cimo, who starred in basketball and baseball for the Hilltoppers, has established himself as one of the top high school baseball coaches in Alabama.

The 1979 Joliet Catholic graduate coached Auburn High School to the Class 6A state championship recently. The Tigers swept a best-of-three championship series from Oxford, winning 3-1 and 13-3 at Biscuit Stadium in Montgomery last month.

The 6A class is Alabama's largest division. Cimo has been Auburn's coach for 17 years. He was voted Alabama's 2009 Coach of the Year.

"It was great to finish off the season the way we did," said Cimo, a three-year outfield regular for Eastern Illinois University, where he graduated in 1985. "I don't think that us winning the state title has set in just yet.

"There is going to be a celebration for the baseball team when school begins in the fall. That will be something to look forward to."

Every round of Alabama state-tournament play is a best-of-three series. Auburn, which posted a 38-6 overall record, was 10-1 in the playoffs.

"We put everything together for the playoffs," said Cimo, who was drafted by the San Francisco Giants and played nine years in the minor leagues. "The players had a tremendous focus, especially once the playoffs began. This was a tremendous group of young men."

One of the Tigers' best players was Cimo's son, sophomore second baseman Tanner Cimo, who earned all-state honors.

Matt Cimo has coached seven all-state players at Auburn.

The 5-foot-7, 145-pound Tanner, the varsity football team's backup quarterback last fall, hit .361. He belted 5 home runs and smacked 11 doubles.

"Tanner turned in some phenomenal defensive plays in the state tournament," Matt Cimo said. "There were numerous times when he dove to stop balls going to the outfield and made the putout.

"Coaching your son is always a special occasion. And then to win a state championship, well, that's icing on the cake."

Before winning the state championship, Matt Cimo had guided the Tigers to a pair of Final Four state appearances -- 1998 and 2001.

"We had 12 seniors on our 2008 team and we were expected to go a lot further than we did in the playoffs," Cimo said. "But we lost in the first round. This season's team had only three seniors."

While at Joliet Catholic, Cimo played shortstop and outfield. The two-time all-area player was coached by the late Roger Gifford and Jack Schimanski.

On the basketball court, Cimo was a two-year starting point guard for then-coach Mike Gillespie. His all-around play on the hardwood helped the Hilltoppers to a 1979 Class AA supersectional berth against top-ranked Quincy.

"Roger (Gifford) was more of a laid-back type of coach," Cimo said. "Jack (Schimanski) got fired up easier. Both of them had their own personality. It was fun playing for both."

Cimo reached the Triple-A level, where he played three seasons. Besides being drafted by the Giants and playing for them for three years, he was with Baltimore for four years. He played a year each with Philadelphia and the Cubs.

Cimo grew up in Lockport and played all sports at Kelvin Grove Grade School. One of his main coaches at Kelvin Grove was Ron Kulwinski.

The late Ernie Cimo and his wife Earlene perhaps were Matt's biggest fans. Ernie Cimo was the athletic director at Romeoville High School.

"Since my dad was a coach and athletic director, and a person who loved all sports, he followed my career all the way through the minor leagues," Matt said. "He loved athletics.

"After we had won the state championship, my mom came up to me and said, 'Your dad would be so proud of you today.' That meant a lot when she said that to me."

The weather in Alabama is conducive to successful baseball. High school practice begins in early January with three weeks of throwing practice.

"The average winter temperature is right around 55," Cimo said. "We have only one month which is not compatible for practicing or playing baseball.

"After three weeks of throwing drills, we have tryouts the final week in January. Our first game is usually around Feb. 9. We get in 36 games during the regular season."

Auburn University of the Southeastern Conference is in Auburn. Like most SEC schools, the Tigers have a rabid football following.

But Cimo won't be swayed from his football roots.

"I'm still a Big Ten football fan," he laughed. "I'm getting there, though, over to Auburn football. But right now, I remain all Big Ten when it comes to football.

"I follow the SEC in baseball and it's a great conference."






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