Illinois High School Basketball 2003-04: A Eulogy
March 24, 2004
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Tis the fourth Monday in March, and once again we lay to rest another season of basketball among high schools in Illinois. As the coffin slowly falls into Mother Earth, let us begin to reminisce of good times and bad, of gain and loss, of joy and sorrow, as the indoor hysteria gives way to birds chirping and bats swinging.
Let us remember the start of the season, where a Chicago Hyde Park team that was expected to stay in the cellar got it in gear, and took home it’s first-ever Thanksgiving championship while making it to the sectional title game for the first time in school history.
Let us breeze through December, where the holiday season not only brought us tidings and good cheer, but another first: a Proviso West Championship won by Homewood-Flossmoor.
Let us rejoice in the resurrection of the career of Candace Parker, the only girl in state history to have every boy 16 years old and younger drooling over her sleek stature while college coaches equally drool over her next-level potential. When things looked bleak for Parker with an early-season ACL tear, this 6-4 dynamo returned ahead of schedule, and her team went 24-0 after she got back. In the end, Candace got a championship ring-her second, Ms. Illinois Basketball-her second, National Player of the Year-also her second, and a scholarship with Tennessee. Aren’t you glad she’s not jumping to the WNBA early?
Let us also rejoice in the return of the king. No, not LeBron “King” James. I’m speaking of Peoria Central, back-to-back state champions, who plowed their way through a tough Elite 8 field to do what only their crosstown brethren Peoria Manual has done in the last 15 years. With a player like Shaun Livingston on your team, you have no choice but to be good.
But as we praise the mighty, let us also praise the smallest among us as well. Chicago Leo, that tiny all-Black Catholic school from the south side of Chicago, rose through the weeds of the city to be a shining light for Class A schools with its first ever state title.
Let us also say “Thank You” to two coaches who could be calling it a career. Bob Hambric of Simeon, and Dorothy Gaters of Marshall. The names speak for themselves. Seperately, they have symbolized stability and continuity in an ever-changing landscape. Collectively, they have nearly 65 years of coching experiences, over 1,400 careeer coaching wins, 26 city titles-23 just by Gaters alone, eight state titles-seven from Gaters’ hands, and are the all-time coaching leaders in the Public League. They also have produced some of the finest citizens to ever represent the world’s biggest athletic league.
As we come to the final chapter, let us also say farewell, and rest in peace to two whose time came too soon. Ronald Billinger was the big man in town when it came to finding the little guys on the recruiting totem pole. Before he passed away in January, “Chops” was responsible for putting on the map countless mid-level and lower-level players who have excelled on the court, and in life. One player he would have been proud to promote was Calvin Ector. Unfortunately, Ector won’t get his chance after being felled by a hail of gunfire in his native Maywood. Somewhere at Proviso East, there’s a #20 jersey hanging proudly for all to see.
And so we close the book, and say ashes to ashes and dust to dust on another high school basketball season in the Illini state. The memories, as they say, will linger on forever in our hearts.