Asking Rick Kingsley to pick his favorite sport between baseball and basketball is an unfair question.
In part, that’s because he very rarely had to choose.
“I just couldn’t wait to get up in the morning, and it was whatever our friends wanted to do that day,” Kingsley said, recalling his childhood years in a telephone interview this week. “It was go to Little League Park or go find a park to play baseball. Or we’d go play basketball at Adams Elementary School or they’d come to my house, because we had a nine-foot basket.
“We just played hours and hours and hours.”
Kingsley never lost his passion or his talent when it came to either sport.
He was a six-time letter winner at Janesville Craig High who helped the boys basketball to its first two state tournaments in program history. And Kingsley was a part of three state championship American Legion baseball teams.
Then he went on to Milton College, where he continued to excel in both sports, starting four years on the baseball diamond and three on the basketball court.
Kingsley’s standout dual-sport career has landed him a spot in the Janesville Sports Hall of Fame.
He’ll be inducted in a ceremony Saturday at the Janesville Country Club, with a reception beginning at 5 p.m. and dinner at 6, followed by the program. Joining Kingsley in the 29th class are Diane Jacobson, Lesley Perry Murphy, Mike Brooks and Bill Semmens.
Kingsley will join his brother, Ross (1995), and father, Dick (2008), as Hall of Fame inductees.
“I actually broke down and started crying,” Kingsley said of the day he learned of his induction. “Really special. I can’t put it into words; it’s a dream come true to join my father and Ross.”
Some of Kingsley’s earliest sports memories are with Ross and their friends, the Berg brothers—Tom, Mike, Steve and Marty—playing basketball in the driveway.
They called themselves the KBA, or the Kingsley Berg Association, and often played a game they called “stuff buckets” on that nine-foot hoop.
Former Craig coach Stan DuFrane said the Kingsleys’ eventual success at the high school and college levels could be traced back to those three-on-three games or to coming up through programs at the YMCA.
“They started at 4 years old, with young kids at that time taking lessons,” DuFrane said. “Kingsley was very good coming up through that program, and in junior high, as well.”
By the time he reached Craig’s varsity team for the final few games of his sophomore year in 1973, Kingsley was a 6-foot-1 guard/forward whose most important task was to guard the top offensive player on the opposing team.
“He covered the defensive end very well,” said longtime Craig coach Bob Suter, who was the sophomore basketball coach during Kingsley’s time with the Cougars. “He was very quick, with a long, lanky wingspan.”
Kingsley was a starting guard on the 1974 team that advanced to the WIAA state tournament for the first time in school history. Craig lost 71-62 to Milwaukee North in Class A state quarterfinals.
With leading scorer Chris Weber, Kingsley and a number of other talented seniors coming back in 1975, the group had lofty goals. But Kingsley’s season nearly got derailed just after it began.
“I had gone out for cross country that year, my senior year, just to be in the best shape I’d ever been in. ... We all knew it was going to be a special year,” Kingsley said. “Then I got hurt the very first game of the year, with about 20 seconds to go.
“I raced ahead and went up for a layup, and a guy went up to block it and hit me up at the rim. I did a somersault and fell on my wrist and broke it.”
Kingsley said he only missed about a half-dozen games, however, before a doctor was able to create a soft cast that he was able to use while playing.
He had shed the cast by the time the postseason rolled around, and there he had perhaps the best games of his high school basketball career. He went 10 of 15 from the field on the way to scoring 20 points in a sectional semifinal victory.
After beating Burlington in the sectional final that year, Kingsley told The Gazette, “This right here is the finest time in my life. It’s the greatest thing I’ve ever witnessed.”
At the state tournament at the University of Wisconsin Field House, Kingsley scored 15 of his 22 points in the first half, when Weber was in foul trouble, to lead Craig over Eau Claire Memorial, 74-70. The Cougars lost to Milwaukee Marshall, 59-57, in the semis.
Despite the injury, Kingsley was named second-team all-Big Eight as a senior.
In baseball, he was a first-team choice in center field by the time he was a senior. He was also the Cougars’ leadoff hitter.
“We’ve had, over the years, some very, very good center fielders, but he patrolled that spot magnificently,” said Suter, Kingsley’s varsity coach as a senior. “He had a good arm, good range. Just a well-rounded athlete and great competitor. When he crossed the line, he was ready to play.”
Kingsley hit .333 his senior year for a team that went 11-4. He had a team-high 11 runs, 15 hits, four doubles and two triples.
But it’s American Legion ball that Kingsley remembers most fondly. He was part of teams that won state titles in 1974, 1975 and 1976.
“I was always the leadoff hitter and center fielder. I was there to be the table-setter for the guys behind me,” Kingsley said. “We had a powerful team. It was very special to be a member of three straight championship teams.”
As Kingsley’s high school career was coming to an end, he had some decisions to make. He was being recruited by Dick Bennett to play basketball at UW-Stevens Point when Northern Michigan, which was recruiting him, wanted him to watch the team play a game at Milton College.
Kingsley liked what he saw, but not of Northern Michigan.
“I’m driving home with my dad and I go, ‘That Milton College, I like the way they play,’” Kingsley said. “I said, ‘I wouldn’t mind coming here.’”
Milton told Kingsley he could continue playing both sports, and he was sold.
Kingsley went on to become a three-year starting guard in basketball, and Milton beat nearly every state school during his time there. And he was a four-year starting center fielder and leadoff hitter for the baseball team, earning first-team all-NAIA state honors his senior year.
Perhaps Kingsley’s fondest memory was scoring the winning run of one of the games during a doubleheader sweep of the University of Wisconsin.
“They were shell shocked,” Kingsley said. “That might have been the beginning of the end of baseball at Wisconsin. Like, ‘If we can’t beat Milton College, how can we compete against the other major colleges?’”
Kingsley graduated with a degree in economics. He played a couple seasons of summer league baseball both locally and in Milwaukee before getting a chance to coach his son, Alex, and stepson, Jeffrey, from their T-ball days up through their 15-year-old seasons.
Daughter Emily played varsity basketball at West Allis Hale High School and then UW-Whitewater. Alex was a three-sport standout at West Allis Central, and Jeffrey played baseball at Martin Luther before going into the Marines.
With the family lineage, it should come as no surprise that sports remained a big part of the next generation of Kingsleys.
“We were definitely a sports family,” said Rick Kingsley, who will celebrate 21 years with his wife, Carrie, next month. “We always looked forward to the next day and getting out there and doing something—baseball, basketball, just having fun. That’s what it was for me.”