The Noble “Duke” of Gillespie: Don Dobrino
By JACKSON WILSON
Coal Country Times Reporter
GILLESPIE – Don Dobrino may not walk the Earth forever, but he has sculpted a masterpiece of a legacy that will be adored for generations.
On July 22, the Gillespie Community Unit No. 7 School Board of Education unanimously made a decision that will go down in history. In honor of the Miners’ 100th high school football season, head coach Jake Bilbruck encouraged that the field be re-named after the community’s coaching icon and signature football pioneer. Per Dobrino’s request, the new name for the Gillespie High School football complex will be titled ‘Don “Duke” Dobrino Field’ to honor a special mutual connection he made with his players over the years.
“It was great to be able to coach all of these kids. Not just in the game but other aspects of life as well,” praised Dobrino. “In the early stages of my career I was pretty tough on them, but the kids came over to me for that reason. They used to call me ‘Duke’ a lot so I thought that would be something nice to do for the kids.”
“Aside from his coaching records, coach Dobrino has positively influenced the lives of young people, teaching them not only how to win as members of a team but also what it means to be responsible as caring members of community,” said Bilbruck. “I have been to coaching clinics and games all throughout the state. Anybody I’ve talked to – coaches, sportswriters, state tournament officials – from Chicago to Carbondale, have recognized Dobrino as Gillespie’s football ambassador. So, as we celebrate our 100th football season, I would like to properly recognize someone who has been responsible for over a third of those seasons. Hundreds of lives were influenced and many lessons were taught. We believe that this would indeed be a fitting tribute.”
“I was actually on vacation a week before the board meeting and I didn’t know anything about this until I picked up the board packet that Monday,” said Dobrino. “Then, I looked down at the bottom of the agenda and I saw that Jake was going to do this and it was a nice surprise. I am very humbled.”
Dobrino grew up as a standout athlete in football and baseball at Mt. Olive High School. He graduated in 1953 and took both talents to the University of Iowa. Dobrino got to experience a Big Ten conference title and Rose Bowl championship with the football Hawkeyes. At the conclusion of his career as a student athlete, Dobrino signed a minor league baseball contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He was released from the club after a five-year pursuit of the big leagues.
Dobrino began his career at Gillespie High School as a football and baseball coach in 1970. It was three years later that Dobrino decided to make football his lone priority. This decision and commitment paid major dividends – so much so that the Miners qualified for the 1990 state championship against Seneca.
In 1996, Dobrino was dismissed from the GHS athletic staff because he was supposedly “too old to coach anymore” according to an educational board member.
To Dobrino, age was only a number. He furthered his head coaching career at Mt. Olive High School for 13 years. During that tenure, Dobrino led the football Wildcats to six consecutive playoff appearances.
“Throughout my career, I’ve been blessed to be able to coach some talented athletes,” Dobrino said.
Dobrino returned to Gillespie High School as a member of Don Borgini’s staff, then re-claimed the head coaching position for the football Miners after Borgini moved on to Carlinville High School. Bilbruck took over as head coach in 2017, with the “Duke” as one of his assistants.
Dobrino has now been associated with coaching for 55 consecutive years. Overall, he has spent 37 campaigns making a difference in the lives of Gillespie Miner football athletes. His 29-year head coaching tenure is the all-time longest at GHS. Dobrino is the 14th winningest football head coach in Illinois state history. Plus, he holds the Gillespie record in career wins (169) and postseason triumphs (10). “Duke” has even had the privilege of coaching four family members. His quarterback grandson, Daniel Dobrino, graduated from Gillespie in 2016.
Dobrino is uncertain about his future with the GHS football program, but he is remaining hopeful that he can continue his service.
“I don’t know if I’m going to help Bilbruck this year or not but we’ll see. I still feel pretty healthy,” said Dobrino.