Bears

Hebron to celebrate its 60th

600388.png

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.

Projecting what the Bears' 53-man roster will look like

Projecting what the Bears' 53-man roster will look like

The Bears will begin training camp next week without many significant position battles — outside of kicker, of course — which stands as an indicator of how strong a roster Ryan Pace has built. But that doesn’t mean there won't be some intriguing decisions to be made in a month and a half, especially involving depth at some critical positions. 

So here’s a pre-training camp stab at projecting what the Bear’s 53-man roster will look like on the night of Sept. 5:

QUARTERBACKS (2): Mitch Trubisky, Chase Daniel
Missing the cut: Tyler Bray

These two guys are locked in, leaving Tyler Bray to likely return to the practice squad for another season. 

RUNNING BACKS (4): Tarik Cohen, Mike Davis, David Montgomery, Kerrith Whyte Jr. 
Missing the cut: Ryan Nall

Cohen, Davis and Montgomery are roster locks, leaving Whyte and Nall to compete for, likely, just one spot on the roster. Matt Nagy praised Nall during OTAs, and he could become a versatile option with the ability to play some fullback, but we’ll give the last spot to Whyte given his speed and the Bears’ focus on that trait in the offseason. 

WIDE RECEIVERS (6): Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Anthony Miller, Cordarrelle Patterson, Riley Ridley, Marvin Hall
Missing the cut: Javon Wims, Emanuel Hall, Taquan Mizzell, Tanner Gentry, Jordan Williams-Lambert, Thomas Ives

Robinson, Gabriel and Miller are locks, while Patterson’s contract structure ($5 million guaranteed, all in 2019) and Ridley’s draft slot (fourth round) easily get them on the team, too. That leaves Javon Wims, Marvin Hall, Emanuel Hall and a handful of others to compete for what probably is only one more spot on the 53-man roster. There’s not much separating those three heading into training camp, though Emanuel Hall’s sports hernia surgery sidelined him during OTAs, putting him a little behind the curve. Wims is the incumbent here but didn’t get on the field much in 2018, while Marvin Hall played a little with the Atlanta Falcons over the last two years. We’ll give the edge to Marvin Hall for now based on his speed and meager experience, but also with the knowledge that the Bears’ sixth receiver likely won’t be active on game days unless of an injury. 

TIGHT ENDS (5): Trey Burton, Adam Shaheen, Ben Braunecker, Bradley Sowell, Dax Raymond
Missing the cut: Ian Bunting, Jesper Horsted, Ellis Richardson

If Burton has to begin training camp on the PUP list, will he be ready for Week 1? Can Shaheen stay healthy for a full season? Those are perhaps the two biggest questions needing answers not only for this unit, but for the Bears’ offense as a whole. Burton’s 11th-hour injury prior to the Bears’ playoff loss to the Philadelphia Eagles limited how dynamic Nagy’s offense could be, while Shaheen’s preseason injury meant the Bears were ineffective when using 12 personnel during the regular season. The Bears need better depth behind Burton and Shaheen — Braunecker is a reliable special teamer with flexibility to play both the “U” and the “Y” spots, but can more much-needed depth emerge from a converted offensive lineman (Sowell) and a handful of undrafted free agents (Raymond, Bunting, Horsted, Richardson)? We’ll give Sowell (at the “Y” behind Shaheen) and Raymond (at the “U” behind Burton) the spots for now, but both will have to earn their way onto the roster during training camp. 

OFFENSIVE LINE (8): Charles Leno, James Daniels, Cody Whitehair, Kyle Long, Bobby Massie, Rashaad Coward, Ted Larsen, Alex Bars
Missing the cut: Cornelius Lucas, Joe Lowery, T.J. Clemmings, Blake Blackmar, Marquez Tucker, Jordan McCray, Sam Mustipher

The Bears moved Sowell to tight end thanks, in part, to their confidence in the development of Coward — a converted defensive lineman — to take over as their swing tackle in 2019. He’s still under construction as an NFL offensive lineman and will have to beat out a handful of challengers, including a five-year NFL reserve in Lucas, but Coward has the edge for a roster spot. The interior reserves are less clear, though: Larsen was brought back in free agency but only has $90,000 guaranteed on his one-year deal, while Bars played for O-line coach Harry Hiestand in college but is coming off an ACL/MCL injury that led to him going undrafted in April. Any of the other reserves could make a push, or the Bears could look to add interior depth on cut-down weekend. For now, though, Larsen, Bars and Coward make the most sense to slide behind the same starting five the Bears had to end 2018. 

DEFENSIVE LINE (6): Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman, Bilal Nichols, Roy Robertson-Harris, Jonathan Bullard, Nick Williams
Missing the cut: Abdullah Anderson, Jalen Dalton, Daryle Banfield, Jonathan Harris

This is the Bears’ deepest unit, with the only battle to see who will make the roster and wind up inactive on game days, as Williams was for all but two games in 2018. 

OUTSIDE LINEBACKER (5): Khalil Mack, Leonard Floyd, Aaron Lynch, Isaiah Irving, Chuck Harris
Cut: Kylie Fitts, Mathieu Betts, James Vaughters

Irving flashed during 2017’s and 2018’s preseasons, and might need to do so again to secure his spot on the Bears’ 2019 roster. But consider this an open battle for reserve roles behind Mack/Floyd/Lynch: Irving has the inside track to one spot but will have to earn it; while whoever flashes the most from the Harris/Fitts/Betts/Vaughters group should get another. We’ll go with Harris here — maybe Mack can take his fellow Buffalo alum under his wing during training camp. 

INSIDE LINEBACKER (4): Danny Trevathan, Roquan Smith, Nick Kwiatkoski, Joel Iyiegbuniwe
Cut: Josh Woods, Jameer Thurman, Kevin Pierre-Louis

Woods might be as close to the bubble as anyone on defense, and could force his way on to the roster with a strong preseason and a commitment to special teams. But with Kwiatkoski a reliable backup and he and Iyiegbuniwe being core special teamers, it’s hard to see Woods beating out any of those four for a spot right now. 

CORNERBACK (6): Kyle Fuller, Prince Amukamara, Buster Skrine, Kevin Toliver II, Duke Shelley, Sherrick McManis
Cut: Stephen Denmark, John Franklin III, Michael Joseph, Josh Simmons, Clifton Duck, Jonathon Mincy

There should be a strong competition among the reserve outside corners on this roster, with Toliver having the best shot but needing to fend off the raw athleticism of Denmark and Franklin as well as the talent of Joseph, who stuck on the practice squad last year after going undrafted out of Division III Dubuque. Shelley flashed during OTAs and minicamp during the spring and looks likely to wind up on the 53-man roster. While McManis worked at safety some during the spring, we’ll include him among the cornerbacks for now. 

SAFETY (4): Eddie Jackson, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Deon Bush, DeAndre Houston-Carson
Cut: Doyin Jibowu

Barring injury and a more permanent move to safety for McManis, there’s little that’ll change in this unit between now and Week 1.

SPECIALISTS (3): Greg Joseph (PK), Pat O’Donnell (P), Patrick Scales (LS)
Cut: Elliott Fry, Eddy Pineiro, John Wirtel

Surprise! While the battle between Fry and Pineiro will dominate the headlines in Bourbonnais, the “winner” isn’t guaranteed to be the Bears’ Week 1 kicker. So not only are those two competing against each other, they’re competing against the field, too. In this scenario, the Cleveland Browns keep fifth-round pick Austin Seibert and cut Joseph, who made 17 of 20 field goals (with a long of 51 yards) for them in 2018. The Bears could try to swing a trade for Baltimore’s Kaare Vedvik here, too. The larger point, though, is this: Pace may have to look outside the organization for his Week 1 kicker, and there will be some talent — like Joseph — available if he does. 

45 Days to Kickoff: Joliet West

45 Days to Kickoff: Joliet West

NBCSportsChicago.com preps reporter "Edgy" Tim O’Halloran spotlights 100 high school football teams in 100 days. The first 75 team profiles will focus on teams making strides across Chicagoland and elsewhere in the state. Starting Aug. 5, we’ll unveil the @NBCSPrepsTop 25 Power Rankings, leading up to kickoff on Friday, Aug. 30.

School: Joliet West

Head coach: Bill Lech

Assistant coaches: Harry Hessling, Seandell Davis, Patrick Lauer, Terry Clarke, Diondrey Hood, Kevin Kusnik, Jeff Peterson, Nick Davis, Peter Nackovic, Dan Tito and Brett Gould

How they fared in 2018: 3-6 (3-6 Southwest Prairie Conference). Joliet West failed to qualify for the IHSA state football playoff field.

2019 Regular Season Schedule:

Aug. 30 @ Minooka

Sept. 6 vs Oswego

Sept. 13 @ Oswego East

Sept. 20 vs Yorkville

Sept. 27 @ Romeoville

Oct. 4 @ Plainfield East

Oct. 11 vs Joliet Central

Oct. 18 vs Plainfield South

Oct. 25 @ Plainfield Central

Biggest storyline: Can the Tigers make more positive steps as a program as they embark on the newly-realigned Southwest Prairie conference?

Names to watch this season: OL Hunter Brooks (Sr.) and FB/LB Tom Luedke (Sr.)

Biggest holes to fill: The Tigers graduated nearly their entire starting offensive skills group from a season ago. Junior RB Trent Howland is the lone returning starter back this fall. 

EDGY's Early Take: Joliet West posted just a 3-6 record in 2018 but that record was a bit misleading on several levels. The Tigers, under then-first year head coach Bill Lech, turned the program around on a lot of levels. Joliet West came within a few plays of potentially winning four of those six losses. If the Tigers can get their offense on track early this season (against a front-loaded schedule against four Southwest Prairie West crossover opponents) they will again challenge for an IHSA state football playoff spot.