Mt. Olive High School graduate leaves behind a legendary coaching and athletic legacy
By JACKSON WILSON
Enquirer Democrat Reporter
One year after his passing, local icon and legend Don “Duke” Dobrino will be honored at a celebration of life in the Benld City Park Sat., July 2.
Dobrino died of cancer at age 86 on July 4, 2021 and left behind a legacy that would never be forgotten.
Dobrino spent half of a century coaching football at the Gillespie and Mt. Olive high schools. He currently ranks 15th on the Illinois High School Association’s all-time wins’ list with a career record of 267-188-3.
Though the Gillespie Miners were the Duke’s biggest love, according to his wife of 43 years – Cookie Dobrino, Don was similarily successful when he returned to his alma mater MOHS after being deemed by a school board member as “too old to coach anymore” following a string of four consecutive losing seasons in Gillespie from 1992 to 1996.
Dobrino, who had previously led the Miners to 18 winning campaigns as well as a pair of IHSA Class 2A state championship berths in 1976 and 1990, additionally revived a suffering Wildcats’ program that had lost 26 of its past 27 contests prior to what was ‘an immediate hire.’ Mt. Olive went 76-57 during Dobrino’s 13-year tenure and, at one point, made the playoffs seven seasons in a row. The Wildcats made the most of those appearances by reaching an IHSA Class 1A quarterfinal and semifinal over the course of a 33-5 stretch from 2005 to 2007. On the other hand, Gillespie struggled in the post-Dobrino era, with just two playoff berths attached to 35 wins in 120 contests.
In addition to his coaching milestones, Dobrino was quite the star athlete. He was a team captain in four different high school sports as a Wildcat and received two scholarships to play both football and baseball for the University of Iowa.
Dobrino led the Hawkeyes to a win over Oregon State in the 1957 Rose Bowl before being drafted into the National Football League by Washington. However, the Duke decided to take a swing at a Major League Baseball career instead.
Dobrino spent five seasons developing in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ minor league system but unfortunately didn’t make it the ‘big show.’ It was at that time when Dobrino realized that coaching and education were his callings.
Prior to getting a call from GHS, Dobrino built a high school program at DePue in the mid-60s. This was something that hadn’t been done since 1948.
After initially retiring in 2009, Dobrino was invited to rejoin the GHS staff as an assistant to Don Borgini – a former player of his. The Duke accepted the offer and eventually re-claimed the head coaching position at age 80 after Borgini moved on to Carlinville in 2015.
Although his cancer removed him from the sidelines after 55 years, Dobrino remained dedicated and wouldn’t let the deadly disease stop him from showcasing his dear love and passion for the game as well as the Gillespie community.
Just two weeks prior to his death, the Duke was visiting the GHS weight room to check in on Miners that were conditioning for the 2021 fall season, according to a report from his wife.
Dobrino was also a Community Unit School District No. 7 Board of Education member throughout the final chapter of his life.
The GHS football facility has been re-named to Don “Duke” Dobrino Field in honor of the legend’s legacy.
Catered food and drinks will be provided at the celebration. Everyone is welcome to attend.