The next 26 hours: My second favorite time of the High School season

by Steve Dunford 

I am giddy like a kid on Christmas morning.  I am downing an unhealthy supper (a $.99 cent Totino’s pizza) with several electronic devices ready to go.  On top of that, I will be listening to two maybe three radios tonight.

One upon a time in the two class system in high school basketball, there was not a greater moment than during the Class A Sectional and a team smelling victory, with the crowd chanting ….SIU…..SIU.  The team that came out of the Supersectional that following Tuesday night would become our team, the team representing us in Southern Illinois in Champaign and later Peoria.

When the State Tournament was in Champaign I had the priveldge of going five years straight.  The first year was in 1988, my” friend Travis Clem and I took our “college day” to visit the U of I campus.  The only building we made it to was the Assembly Hall (Now the State Farm center.  I had the privilege to watch my distant cousin, Dick Corn coach his Pinckneyville Panthers in a state title game, losing a heart breaker to Pana.

The last state tournament I made it to was special as well.  I was able to witness a Franklin County team the Benton Rangers take home a third place trophy.

I remember there was a wreck on 57 on the way up.  (Some things never change.)  I did not have time to make it to my Brothers.  My buddies and I pull up at the McDonald’s on Route 45 right before you turn to go to the Assembly Hall.  The first thing I see was Kenny Irvin shaved bald with Jo Jo Liquid Papered on his head.  We walk in and everyone in the place was from “down home.”

I received my first taste of playoff football during the 2009 season.  I became a Sesser-Valier Red Devil during that stage in my life.  They just recently added the second W as they started co-oping with Woodlawn.

The Fairfield Train Yard, the site of the SVWW Devils playing the Mules tonight. Both are 8-0. (Randy Olson photo)

Tonight is deja vu.  I can tell you where I was eight years ago tonight.  We did not make it to the Train Yard and the Devils were finishing an undefeated season.  Kendell Gibson hit either Bronson or Dawson Verhines in the end zone for a two point conversion that night.

I could not get WFIW in my driveway, because TAO was bleeding over.  I remember sitting at the North Sandusky Boat Ramp listening to it on the radio, “tailgating” with my wife or son.

When the Devils put the exclamation point on an undefeated  season, I remember listening to the late Stan David moaning on the radio, saying “that sucked, that really sucked.”

I remember the next Saturday watching a first round playoff game from Carroll Kelly field.  It seemed like three years in a row, the Devils drew Nashville in the first round.  The older you get years run together.  I know the following year they went to Nashville.

Fast forward a few months later and the Devils and Cardinals were facing each other on the hard wood in the Salem Class 1A Super-sectional.  Four class basketball was in its infancy.  The SIU Arena was undergoing renovations.

It was possibly a once in a lifetime experience.  I was able to see what became my town and my team make a State Tournament run.  I became very sick during on the way home from the Sectional Finals.  I ended up in the ER at Franklin Hospital.

I had money put back to go to Peoria, but I missed a week of work, and was unable to make the trip.  I remember on that cold March night listing to Jim Muir and either Danny Czerwinski or Tom Wheeler.  When the Devils pulled out the barnbuner, I had a “Shooter” moment.

A few days later, I had the chance to watch my team, and the only Franklin County team play in a State Championship in my lifetime.  There were also two Southern Illinois teams playing in the State Championship that day, as the Massac County Patriots

I have traded in my maroon hoodie for a red and grey one now.  The West Frankfort Redbirds are fighting to stay alive in the playoffs tonight travelling to Nashville. If they win they are in.  If they lose, time to start basketball and wrestling.  Kevin Toney is supposed to be “retired” but he has been spending a lot of time here lately in his office at Max Morris Gym.

Technology has grown dramatically over the last few years.  I will be keeping track of multiple games across Southern Illinois.  As I will, I will be saying Go Devils, Go Redbirds, and yes Go Rangers!!!!!!

What is my favorite night now?  It is 1A/2A regional final night.  Since I went to a high school of 95 kids, I love four class basketball.

The Crab Orchard’s, Carrier Mills’, Meridian’s, Christopher’s, Gallatin County’s, Goreville’sand especially Sesser-Valier and Woodlawn  experienced deep post season runs which they would not possibly had the opportunity in four class basketball.

I have a kinship to all six high schools in the county.  The Thompsonville Tigers trump everyone.  I would say the early favorites to go to Peoria from our area is Goreville in Webber Township in 1A.  I like the Harrisburg Bulldogs in 2A right now.  I would love to see the Benton Five make a deep postseason run in 3A.

It is going to be two or three special years coming up in T’ville.  The program has only played in one regional championship, losing a heart-breaker to their nemesis every time they have a good team, the West Frankfort Redbirds.

I might have the chance to see the Tigers cut down regional championship nets.

Thank you for rolling down memory lane with me tonight.  The older I get, I am evolving into a cry baby.  I wiped a lot of tears writing this.


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