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South Chicago, East Side

Jim Wolf, Beloved St. Francis De Sales Basketball Coach, Dies From Coronavirus: ‘He Was Amazing’

"Big Wolf," a sheet-metal worker by trade, coached basketball at the East Side high school for the last 15 years. Until his diagnosis, he was helping others, colleagues said.

St. Francis de Sales High School’s long-time assistant basketball coach Jim Wolf, known as “Big Wolf” to many, died Tuesday after battling symptoms of Covid-19.
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EAST SIDE — St. Francis de Sales High School’s long-time assistant basketball coach Jim Wolf, known as “Big Wolf” to many, died Tuesday after battling coronavirus. He was 72.

An Instagram post from the East Side school Wednesday said “Big Wolf gave his heart and soul to our school and boys basketball program and to many others across the Chicagoland area. He will be missed by all, especially his current and former players, on whom he had a tremendous positive influence.” 

Wolf, a sheet-metal worker by trade, coached basketball at St. Francis de Sales, 10155 S. Ewing Ave., for the last 15 years, according to head coach Kevin Wolfe.

“He was Big Wolf, I was Little Wolfe, with an e. We aren’t related but I’ve known Jim 25 years. Before St. Francis, he coached at St. Jude the Apostle in South Holland,” Wolfe said.

Wolfe described his friend as a basketball guru with a big heart who would help anyone who needed it.

“When it came to the game, he was a fountain of knowledge. He was already thinking four or five plays ahead. He would spend a lot of time in practice and after games breaking down things. He was amazing. And outside of the game, if you needed anything, he was right there,” Wolfe said. “Right before he got sick he was literally going to the grocery store to help out the elderly people that couldn’t get to the store.”

Wolfe also said that “Big Wolf” had a unique talent.

“He touched a lot of people, he really did. He had that gift. If you sat down with him it was like you knew him forever…He had 15 classes that went through at St. Francis and he had another 10 to 15 at St. Jude, so there are so many kids who knew him and played for him.”

Wolf’s son, Jim Wolf Jr., said on social media that is dad’s symptoms went up and down after testing positive for coronavirus on March 29.

On April 1, Wolf Jr. posted “Another good day for Papa Wolf! Not out of the woods all. But a few levels of improvement and some areas of stability.”

Unfortunately, by April 4, the update from Wolf Jr. read “After a few really good days in a row, he had a rough 18 hours..but with the help of a lot of hard working nurses and doctors, he’s fighting through it. Still has a long way to go.”

Two days later, on April 6, Jim Wolf passed away.

Wolfe said he received the news along with other coaches while they were on a Zoom call, and were “crushed.”

Mary Kay Ramirez, who has worked at St. Francis for 36 years and now serves as the school’s director of community relations, said news of Wolf’s passing has hit her hard.

“I’ve known Jim for as long as he’s been at St. Francis, and this one really hit me hard because I respected him so much. He was so compassionate in everything that he did for our kids,” Ramirez said.

On the day his father died, Jim Wolf Jr. described his father as someone who treated everyone the same and often did small acts of kindness.

“He welcomed everyone into his life and talked to and treated everyone the same way…whether they were a priest, a stranger, an old friend, one of his sons’ friends, a ball player, or family member from the fanciest neighborhood in Chicago, or one of the worst,” the post read.

Wolf is survived by two brothers and a sister, an ex-wife and four sons: Jeremy, Jim Jr., John and Jacob.

St. Francis de Sales has a Zoom memorial scheduled for April 17 to honor Wolf, Ramirez said.

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