What an honor for my father and I, to be inducted into the NHIBT Hall of Fame together. As we join my brother, Denny, and so many others who have been an influence in my life along with Greek basketball. So many memories have been centered around the tournament and the days at Cicero Stadium. Many of the friendships we have today, 40 years later were developed on and off the basketball court.
Pete Kladis and his family have been part of the NHIBT since the tournament resumed in 1947. Pete was a part of the Ypsilanti team as a player when they won the tournament 11 out of 13 years, from 1947 to 1960. He played with his brother Nick, and George Fefles (who I’m proud to call Nouno). In 1951, Pete met his soon to be wife, Sophie Voris. In 1952, Sophie was named the Queen of the NHIBT. In those days, The Queen Coronation and Reception, was an exciting highlight of the tournament weekend. The Reception was held at the Argon Ball Room and attracted over 1,000 people from the Greek community and beyond. Our father always bragged that he married the Queen of the Ball – and she was. Pete was a part of the tournament for over 40 years as a player and later a coach.
In 1967, Pete moved his family from 79th & Stoney Island. Five blocks from St. Constantine and Helen to Oak Lawn. Our house was one block from St. Nicholas which had a basketball court that was the envy of all the Greek churches. There was an open-door policy at our house and on the basketball court of St. Nick’s – Everyone was welcome. From the early 70’s, when Denny & Diana were in high school to 1979 when I graduated, friends from all churches came to play and spent many a night at the Kladis house. Many of the friendships that were developed during those years are still strong today. More than basketball, we had open house for church dances, summer picnics and so much more.
During the 60’s & 70’s, Pete was very involved with Greek basketball as a coach and a positive influence on players from many teams in the Chicagoland churches. He made sure we didn’t only compete in tournaments in the Chicago area, but traveled to most of the tournaments in Detroit, Flint, Milwaukee, Boston, Denver and wherever else there was a tournament happening.
In 1973, Pete traveled as the coach of a Chicago All-Star team to Boston. Veteran players on the team, Skip Buzanis, Steve & Jimmy Pappas, Mike Brown, Billy Rosakas, Peter Bouzeos and high school seniors Denny Kladis, Pete Konavos, and Dean Bouzeos, won the tournament. The stories created from those memories are still shared today. All of these players are in the NHIBT Hall of Fame.
As a young kid, I remember the days of the NHIBT at Cicero Stadium. As a family, we would watch Dad as a player or coach. I remember all the excitement of the tournaments. Back in those days, nearly every church in the Chicago area had a team and teams came from all parts of the country. The NHIBT was the place to be. The stands were packed, and the games were extremely competitive. Top Greek players in the country ventured to the Greek version of the Final Four.
I began my basketball days at St. Nick’s and Kolmar grammar School which was across the parking lot from St. Nick’s. Kolmar played our games at St. Nick’s. During this time Skip Buzanis became a part of the Kladis family. Skip and my Dad spent hours every week on the basketball court. From Denny’s basketball days through the youngest of our family, Michael. The goal of all was to beat Skip & Pete in 2 on 2 games. According to Skip & Pete, they never lost. None of us believe that to be true.
I was fortunate to have an older brother by five years who allowed me to play with or against him. Denny never gave me a break on the court, which ultimately taught me how to compete. This allowed me to play with the St. Nick’s high school team when I was in the 8th grade. This was my first experience playing in the NHIBT. Over the next 4 years from 1976 to ’79, we made it to the championship each year to meet our north side rivals, St. Demetrios. We split 2 and 2. After winning in 1976, we lost the 1978 game, by a winning shot by my good friend Peter Bartzis. Payback came in 1979. We defeated St D’s powerhouse with Chris Theodore, Gregg Petrakos and many of my ‘off the court’ friends.
In 1976 & ’77, I played for Richards High School on the sophomore and varsity teams. We won the conference both years. In 1978, I transferred to St. Laurence to play with two All America players with the intentions of winning a state championship. There was no shot clock back then. Lockport held the ball and we lost 26 to 24 in the super sectional game. Lockport went on to win it all. We were voted the, ‘#1 team of the decade not to win State’.
After Graduating in 1979, I followed my sister Diana and many others to Arizona. This journey out west was started by the amazing Steve Pappas, so he could attend Grand Canyon College. Steve lead the way for many of the Chicago Greeks to make the western trek. My sister Diana, being one of the first to head west, played tennis for Grand Canyon University (GCU). Soon, Peter Bartzis would follow. Peter and I were finally able to play on the same team at Scottsdale Community College. I did venture back to Chicago for the NHIBT to play with Ypsilanti’s champion teams in 1982 to ’85 with my claim to fame in 1983. After blowing out my ACL in the first half, I continued to play and was able to hit the game winning shot to win the tournament. I never really bounced back after the injury and hung up my jockstrap after the 1985 championship.
In 1986, I moved to Indianapolis to work with my brother Denny and stayed for the next 16 years. During that time, I learned a lot about life and business. Because of the years with my big brother, I feel I am a better person today.
At the end of 2001, I moved back to Arizona to join the rest of my family, Diana, Michael and my mom. Unfortunately, Dad passed away in 1997 in Arizona at the age of 67, which was way too young. Mom passed in 2009.
In 2010, I started my own company, Welcome Home AZ Magazine, which is mailed to 170,000 of the newest homeowners in Phoenix and Tucson. Many Chicago Greeks who have moved to Arizona receive it. I’m on the Executive Committee for A Taste of Greece, the annual festival for St. Katherine Greek Church in Chandler. The charity I am most passionate about is Kids ‘n Cancer – Camp Agape, which makes a difference in hundreds of families lives.
Thank you again for this honor, “Now Go Play Ball and cherish the moment”