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Sports Column | John Homan: Small-school basketball can be entertaining, too

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It’s hard to understand if you live in a big city. You get used to a certain style of basketball—a faster-paced, more physical kind where officials sometimes swallow their whistles as players get knocked to the floor.

You won’t see many, if any, travelling violations called. Offensive fouls? Forget about it! No carrying the basketball calls either and you won’t likely see any four-corners offense.

But you may just see all of those in small-school tournaments in rural areas like Southern Illinois.

I got the opportunity to relive a part of my youth Monday when I made the trek to Christopher to cover a pair of games at the Turkey Tournament. It was the 48th annual event—no small feat.

While the basic layout of the gym is still the same as I remembered from the fall of 1979, the optics are much more modern.

School officials are proud to show off a new scoreboard on the east wall of the gym, as well as a digital video board at the scorer’s table donated by Banterra Bank. Both are wonderful improvements.

There are considerably more chair seats within the facility these days and the lighting is better than what I remember.

But some things haven’t changed. The stage is still the place for media to be seated at a table and watch a game. The locker rooms still have that 1980s vibe and the hospitality room is still the best or on a very short list of the best in our region. Such a wide variety of foods to choose from. I don’t know who runs it these days, but kudos! Just as good as it was 40 years ago.

Back to the games ... there were no slam dunks Monday in either of the two games I watched, but there were plenty of 3-pointers and some acrobatic drives to the hoop that sometimes resulted in points. Teams, by and large, were patient on the offensive end and didn’t shoot the ball at the first opportunity.

For the record, Waltonville, showcasing two freshmen in the starting lineup, upset favored Norris City/Omaha/Enfield on Monday and Christopher took care of business on the home floor, beating Thompsonville handily.

Four different schools from the area were set to square off Tuesday with the semifinals on Wednesday and Friday and the championship round set for Saturday.

I had an enjoyable time watching and covering both games Monday. It reminded me of the first time I stepped into that Christopher gym in November of 1979 and seeing all those buzz haircuts fashioned by the Bearcats.

A freshman in college, I was asked by the hometown newspaper—The Christopher Progress—to cover Zeigler-Royalton sports. And although I had heard the Black Diamond Conference was pretty strong, I figured I would be bored to death to watch small-school hoops on the heels of watching South Seven Conference games in Carbondale, where I graduated.

Boy, was I wrong.

I soon learned that there was no significant drop off in talent. In fact, some of the games were even more exciting and the crowds were much more intense.

I came to appreciate good basketball no matter where it was played. It’s so wonderful to see that despite a few new bells and whistles, nothing has changed that much.

ONE FINAL LOOK BACK

Football season is now in our rearview mirror after Johnston City fell to Decatur St. Teresa this past Saturday in the semifinal round of the Class 2A state playoffs.

The Indians simply didn’t have enough athletes to match up with the home team. Another private school had eliminated a public school.

Way to go, Decatur. Sound of one hand clapping.

Still, it was a great season for the Tribe as it was for the teams in Carterville, Murphysboro, and a handful of other local communities.

Next month, The Southern will be selecting our Player of the Year for football. And let me tell you, that will be no easy task. The candidates are many and all are deserving.

John Homan is a sports reporter for The Southern. He can be reached at john.homan@thesouthern.com or 618-925-0563.

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