Blackhawks

Hebron to celebrate its 60th

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Hebron to celebrate its 60th

For those of us who recall sitting in front of a tiny black-and-white television set--was it an Emerson or Philco or RCA Victor?--and watching the first live telecast of the Illinois high school basketball tournament in 1952 and listening to Jack Drees describe the action...well, it is hard to believe that Hebron's state championship team is celebrating the 60th anniversary of the event this year.

"Sometimes it feels like 60 years and sometimes it doesn't," said Bill Schulz, the 6-foot-11 center on that storybook Hebron team. "Memories are getting faded now. The whole experience we had, a bunch of young kids, it was tremendous. It gave all five of the starters a Division I scholarship.

"We have been close for all these years. We still see each other a couple of times a year. Normally this time of year my wife and I are in Florida or Arizona. But we got notice last October that they planned on something for March 18. So we aren't going to Cubs spring training, not this year. We're staying home."

Schulz and two other starters, Phil Judson and Ken Spooner, definitely plan to attend the March 18 reunion in Hebron. Another starter, Paul Judson, Phil's twin, was involved in a serious automobile accident on Thanksgiving near his home in Florida and currently is rehabbing at home under the care of his older brother, former White Sox pitcher Howard Judson. He hopes to be able to make the trip in March.

The fifth starter, Don Wilbrandt, died in 1998.

Reserves Jim Wilbrandt, Bill Thayer, Jim Bergin and Joe Schmidt also will attend the reunion. The other, Clayton Ihrke, is deceased.

The 60th anniversary celebration, or 5260 as the organizing committee has dubbed it, is being planned by Bobette and Mel Von Bergen, who own a vegetable farm on the east side of Hebron. Bobette is a 1961 graduate of Hebron.

"This is our third reunion," Bobette said. "We did the 40th and 50th. My brother was in the seventh grade in 1952. He was involved in basketball and went to games with my folks. He didn't go to the championship game. He watched on TV, a little black-and-white screen. I think everybody in Hebron and the surrounding area bought TVs that year.

"It was something we were very proud of," Bobette said. "We didn't realize how big it was at the time. Basketball was big in Hebron. We always had players come back at different times for the booster club. Then we decided we should celebrate it."

The 5250 celebration was highlighted by a book signing by Scott Johnson, an assistant executive director of the Illinois High School Association, who wrote the book, "Once There Were Giants," with his wife Julie Kistler. It was published by the IHSA in 2002.

The March 18 event will feature "A Taste of Hebron" with food provided by local restaurants, including roasted chicken from Crandall's and mostaccioli from Back House. Schulz, Spooner and the Judson twins will participate in a Q&A session. A luncheon with the champions is scheduled. Townspeople will dress in 1950s attire.

At the time, Hebron had a population of 700. The school had an enrollment of 98 students. Today, the town has 1,100 residents. But, like most towns, hard economic times have had a negative effect. Two subdivisions went bankrupt. The water tower in the form of a basketball, built in the 1980s, remains the town's landmark. But most factories have closed. So has Gabel's drugstore and several other businesses. The bank has moved to a
different location.

But who can forget Hebron?

It not only was the first school to win a state championship on live television, it was the first district school to win and it was the smallest school ever to win, before or since. It was Cinderella in sneakers. Everybody was cheering for the little school that could.

The Little Giants, coached by Russ Ahearn, won 34 of 35 games. Surprisingly, at the end of the regular season, they were ranked No. 1 in the state ahead of such traditional powers as Centralia, West Rockford, Quincy and Thornton.

In the state finals, they defeated Champaign 55-46, Lawrenceville 65-55, Rock Island 64-56 and Quincy 64-59 in overtime. In the final, Schulz scored 24 points, Paul Judson 13, Phil Judson 12 and Don Wilbrandt 10 as Hebron overcame Quincy's Bruce Brothers, who finished with 20 before fouling out.

"Not too many people are around who remember back then," said Schulz, who suffered a slight stroke in October. "I work out on Monday, Wednesday and Friday in a gym and most of the people I work out with are the same age. They all remember it. Everybody was for us, other than the people from Quincy. It was kind of a feel-good deal, the whole experience."

Spooner said it is "amazing" how many people he comes in contact with who aren't even 60 years old but have heard the story about Hebron. He still is amazed that a school of 98 students could beat schools with enrollments of 1,000 and 2,000 students, big schools such as Danville, Oak Park, Quincy and Kankakee.

"It amazes me how many people were impacted by what we did," Spooner said. "Everybody was cheering for us because of the smallness of the school but we only had five or six players who warmed up during the regular season. People who came from little schools were inspired by what we did.

"It was a numbing experience when it was over. We were jumping around on the floor. I have a picture of me jumping in the air and yelling after we won. Personally, I didn't realize what it meant for many, many years. We had reunions but nothing fancy until the 50th. At the book signing, a neighbor had to wait in line for 2 12 hours to have me sign a book. It hit home to me at that point.

"The same thing happened at Peoria. People wanted to meet us. We felt like rock stars. It was overwhelming. It was the first time that it really sunk in for me, the impact that our whole experience had on people. I still have my old jersey and a lot of scrapbooks."

So do the Judson twins. "Sixty years? It does feel like it when you look at the calendar. It's gone by pretty quickly, the older you get. But it feels like we could go out and play a little bit. Every day somebody reminds me of the team," Phil said.

What he remembers most are some of the games, how they were trailing a big and muscular Rock Island team by three points at the start of the fourth quarter in the semifinals, then scored 14 points in a row to win.

"When the tournament began, the coach wrote the number 11 on a chalkboard. "Win the next 11 games and you win the state title," Ahearn told his players. In those days, the small schools started at the district level, then moved to the regional with the bigger schools.

"When we got to the final against Quincy, the coach told us that they had an All-American in Bruce Brothers," Phil said. "Back then, you didn't see TV or listen to the radio or read the newspapers. So you didn't know about your opponents.

"Quincy finished third the year before and had three starters back. But we expected to win. We weren't intimidated. The coach said they had a zone press. We hadn't heard about it. He said (Taylorville star) Billy Ridley couldn't dribble through it, that we had to pass the ball, not dribble.

"We handled it really well. Spooner passed to Schulz at the top of the key and he passed to Paul or me on the weak side. Then one of us would break to the middle. We had a three-on-two fast break. We finally pulled it out in overtime."

After 60 years, he still remembers every play, every shot, every exciting moment. He can't wait until March 18.

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' overtime loss to Lightning: Missed opportunities and one too many penalties

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' overtime loss to Lightning: Missed opportunities and one too many penalties

Here are five takeaways from the Blackhawks’ 3-2 overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday night:
 
1. One too many penalties.

The Blackhawks flirted with danger in the first period when they handed the Lightning three straight continuous power plays, a four-minute double minor high-sticking penalty from John Hayden and a Jonathan Toews hooking call that resulted in a 5-on-3 opportunity for Tampa Bay for 43 seconds. 

The penalty kill unit that ranked fourth in the league entering the matchup, however, killed off all three of those penalties against the NHL's top-ranked power play, and did so in commanding fashion.

The Blackhawks went 5-for-5 on the penalty kill in regulation, but couldn't stop the sixth one — a questionable slashing call on Nick Schmaltz —  in overtime when Brayden Point buried the winner on a 4-on-3 opportunity.

It was also interesting that Jon Cooper elected to go with four forwards (Nikita Kucherov, Vladislav Namestnikov, Point and Steven Stamkos) and zero defensemen during that man advantage, putting all of his offensive weapons out on the ice. It's something more teams should do in that situation.

2. Patrick Kane gets going.

After scoring just one goal in his previous 10 games, Kane found the back of the net twice in the opening frame against Tampa Bay and stayed hot against a team he historically plays well against. And he nearly netted a hat trick in overtime but couldn't cash in on a breakaway opportunity.

Kane has 20 points (eight goals, 12 assists) in 14 career regular-season games against the Lightning, and extended his point streak to five games. He has three goals and four assists over that stretch.

We wrote about how important it is for the Blackhawks' superstars to get going again with the offensive contributions mainly coming from role players as of late, and Kane getting into a groove is a perfect step in that direction.

3. How about that goaltending battle?

Corey Crawford and Andrei Vasilevskiy showed us exactly why they belong in the Vezina Trophy discussion, and as of this moment, it's hard not to include both of them as finalists. They put on a goaltending clinic, seemingly topping the other as the game went on.

The two teams combined for 71 scoring chances, and Crawford and Vasilevskiy came up big when their teams need them the most.

Crawford finished with 35 saves on 38 shots (.921 save percentage) in the loss while Vasilevskiy stopped 29 of 31 (.935 save percentage), and improved to 15-2-1 on the season. 

4. Missed opportunities.

You couldn't have asked for a better start for the Blackhawks. They scored the first goal 3:49 into the game and the second on the power play at 15:54, killed off three penalties, including a 5-on-3, had 24 shot attempts (13 on goal) compared to the Lightning's 16 attempts (11 on goal) and led in even-strength scoring chances 9-6.

It was a different story the rest of the way.

The Blackhawks took their foot off the gas pedal a bit and let the Lightning back in the game by getting away from what they do best, and that's control the puck. Obviously, you expected the league's best offense to push back and it's certainly not an easy task to keep them off the scoresheet all together. 

But the Blackhawks had their chances to stay in front or retake the lead and just couldn't bury them. Tampa Bay had 50 shot attempts from the second period on while the Blackhawks had only 32, and finished with 44 scoring chances compared to Chicago's 27.

5. Richard Panik in the doghouse?

Joel Quenneville didn't go to his line blender in this one, but he did shorten some leashes. Panik, most notably, had a season-low 12:28 of ice time in the loss and had 15 shifts, which was second-fewest only to Ryan Hartman (13) on the team.

Panik had a prime chance to break a 2-2 tie in the third period but was denied by Vasilevskiy, who made a remarkable left-pad save. Instead, Panik extended his goal drought to 12 games and didn't get a shift in overtime.

He's certainly better and will get his scoring chances when playing on the top line with Toews and Brandon Saad, but the missed opportunities are magnified in tight losses. It doesn't look like a move down in the lineup is coming given the success of Alex DeBrincat, who gives the Blackhawks an offensive weapon on the third line, but perhaps it should be considered.

Bring your own stuffing: Jazz swat Bulls on Thanksgiving Eve

Bring your own stuffing: Jazz swat Bulls on Thanksgiving Eve

On the second (turkey) leg of a back-to-back, the Bulls didn't bring much energy in a 110-80 loss to the Utah Jazz. 

Instead of diving into the nitty-gritty of the uninspiring effort, though, we decided to just serve you up a Thanksgiving meal of highlights. Here are the top blocks from Wednesday's game: 

5. Derrick Favors is no Rudy Gobert -- that we know -- but imitation is the highest form of flattery. 

4. Are Bobby Portis chase down blocks the new LeBron James chase down blocks? Let's not get carried away... yet. We'll chalk it up to just a real nice hustle play by Bobby. 

3 and 2. Speaking of hustle plays... Jonas Jerebko isn't exactly known as a dominant defender. He sure made it hard for the Bulls on what should of been an easy fast-break bucket in the third quarter, though. First, he silenced Kris Dunn's reverse. Then, he met Lauri Markkanen at the rim and sent the rookie packing. The Baby Bulls 2.0 can blame it on fatigue, but they just handed Jerebko a highlight tape for years to come.   

1. In fairness, Jerian Grant had to get up a shot as the quarter was coming to a close. It is as vicious as it looks, though.