Monday, March 18, 2013

I guess the first thing...

...that should be said about driving three hours down to Peoria (and back) for the state basketball semifinals is that it's probably something you only do once. (I went down to Champaign a few years ago on the Saturday after Thanksgiving to see the football finals. It was fun, but it was also nice to watch it on TV this year while everyone in the stands was freezing.)

To give you some idea of my Friday night, it would be like driving half-way up to Minneapolis, stopping off to watch a couple of basketball games, and then continuing on. Crazy, huh? I finally got to bed at about 1:30, which is like pulling an all-nighter for most people. On Saturday I went to see Oz: The Great and Powerful with my wife and son. All I can tell you is that it stars James Franco in the title role. I slept through most of it.

(Which reminds me of an old Woody Allen joke: "I took a course in speed-reading. Last night I finished War and Peace in just a few hours. It's about Russia.")

I think the second thing that needs to be said is that if you don't have Satellite Radio, you really need to bring a bunch of CDs in the car, as the radio stations get a little scarce between here and Peoria. I found myself at times listening to conservative talk radio and even a Christian station.

(It really gave me a taste of what it must be like to live outside of a major city. After tuning in to some of this stuff, it's no wonder that half the country hates President Obama so much. I even started to wonder myself if he was some sort of socialist Muslim Kenyan bent on destroying Our Way of Life. Oh, and by the way, did you know that evolution is just a hoax? It's true; a guy on the radio said as much. I guess every high school biology class in America will have to change its curriculum now.)

The third thing you absolutely, positively must do is buy your tickets ahead of time. Either print them yourself at home or arrange to pick them up at the Will Call window. I did the latter, and thank God, because the line to purchase tickets snaked all through the lobby. What a mess!

The games themselves were fun to watch; Simeon, ahead by only two points at the end of the third quarter, put away Proviso East, and Stevenson eliminated Edwardsville. (Come to think of it, I don't remember either losing team ever having a lead.) I'll let you read all about the contests in the Trib and Sun-Times, but my main takeaways were that Simeon is just really, really good, and that Stevenson is just really, really young. (For much of the game against Edwardsville, the Patriots had four underclassmen on the court: junior Matthew Morrissey and sophomores Jalen Brunson, Cameron Green and Connor Cashaw. These guys are obviously a team to watch for next year!)

The program for the evening cost five dollars but was well worth it as the guy selling them pointed me in the direction of the Will Call window. (I'd still be in that line for tickets otherwise.) The booklet had an ad for Illinois American Water, which struck me funny somehow (what would a time traveler from the 1950s have to say about that?) and listed the band for the night as the Pekin Dragons, directed by Karli McCann (which was quite good, actually). I also noticed that one of the "current" officers of the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association is named Jim Tracy and the president-elect of the Illinois Athletic Directors Association is Steve Rockrohr from Glenbrook South. Finally, I learned that one of the seventh grade championship teams, from Teutopolis, is nicknamed the "Wooden Shoes."

So Simeon ended up winning their fourth 4A title in a row on Saturday night while Morgan Park took the 3A crown. In addition, Nick Irvin, the coach of Morgan Park, claimed in the Trib:

"We're the best team in the state — nobody else — and we're the best team on Vincennes (Avenue)," Irvin said in reference to Simeon.

And who's to say he's wrong? (I'm still not sure who had the better football team last year, Mount Carmel or Glenbard West. So look for a post soon on my suggestion for an improvement in the IHSA tournaments.)

I finally got out of the games Friday night at about 10:30 or so. As I was leaving, I noticed the Hotel Pere Marquette, above, in the distance. I could tell that it was a grand old hotel, even though a couple of the letters in the sign were no longer lit up. It made me feel a little sad for Peoria. I suspect it must have been a nice little burg at one time, probably before the Great Depression. But after World War II, it seems to me, large cities have prospered in this country at the expense of smaller ones. Oh, well. At least get those lights fixed, will ya? I thought as I was driving away, It makes your city look bad.

So I was glad to learn when I got home that the hotel, built in 1926 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is currently being renovated and scheduled to reopen this month. That's good. Maybe I'll stay there next year when I go back for the tournament.

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