SideLines: Trips to state that almost were

You never really know where a story is going to lead. This isn’t exactly the story I thought I would write, but this is where I ended up

According to the Illinois High School Association, which keeps track of these things, Sycamore High School has been playing boys basketball since 1905. That’s a really long time. A lot can happen in that time. And a lot can’t. Or maybe won’t.

Despite many great players and seasons, the Spartans have never sent a team to the state tournament. They have come close many times, but maybe never so close as the single field goal that separated them from Rockford Lutheran, which beat them 59-57 in the Hampshire Sectional championship March 14. The loss not only ended their season, but any chance of going to the state tournament.

I had a feeling this was going to be Sycamore’s year. A senior-laden team, they had a lot of talent, knew how to win, and, most importantly, had momentum going into the playoffs.

Had they beaten RL, and then beaten Peoria Notre Dame in the DeKalb Supersectional, it would have been a remarkable story. Not simply because they were reaching the Promised Land, but because just two seasons ago they were 9-20. You don’t usually see a state-bound team leap-frogging from a sub-.500 season to the Final Four in two years.

Instead, what Sycamore’s season – their whole history, actually – show is how truly difficult it is for any boys’ basketball team to get to the state tournament, let alone win it.

A simple field goal is also what separated the great Rochelle team of 1981-82 from their first state tournament since 1928. In that case, they lost to Rock Island Alleman by two points in the East Moline Sectional. The loss was one of three the Hubs had that season, including a pair of one-point losses to DeKalb.

Speaking of the Barbs, IHSA records show that DeKalb teams have twice made it to the state tournament. I remember the 1968 season when they finished fourth under Jack Tosh, the highest for any boys basketball team in DeKalb County. Despite being bitter rivals, even those of us in Rochelle got caught up in the excitement and pulled for them that year. High school sports, especially basketball, just naturally draws you in.

What I didn’t know is that the Barbs also qualified in 1953, when they were eliminated 48-42 in their first-round game to Pinckneyville.

According to IHSA records, which can be a little sketchy, three other local boys hardwood teams have qualified for the state tournament.

In 1984, Hinckley-Big Rock reached the quarterfinals, as did Somonauk in 1945. The other was the old Waterman High School, now a part of the Indian Creek School District. They lost a true heartbreaker to Beardstown 29-27 in four overtimes during their only state appearance back in 1930.

On the girls’ side, H-BR won back-to-back Class 1A state basketball titles in 2008-2010, going a remarkable 64-5 under Coach Greg Burks.

Not counting individual state titles, DeKalb County teams have won 15 state titles in various sports. Kaneland High School, just across the county line, has won nine state titles alone.

Sports can teach us many lessons. Most of them are obvious, like hard work and teamwork and good sportsmanship.

Some are bitter. The harshest is that no matter how much you may want something, there’s never any guarantee it’ll happen. There are countless others who want the same thing just as bad, maybe even more. It doesn’t diminish what you’ve done, it is just a fact of life.

It would have been great if Sycamore had made it to state last weekend, but in the end it doesn’t really matter. The Spartans gave us a great season. What more can you ask?

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