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Mac on Sports

Three Decatur Eisenhower Panthers
Headed For Ivy League

   Decatur Eisenhower's Katina and Tina Martin will sign to continue their athletic and academic careers at Harvard where they will join fellow classmate, Seven Sassano, in competing in the Ivy League as Sassano previously announced she would play rugby at Dartmouth
   The three will be joined by wrestler Cheyanna Bork-Gregg at Eisenhower's signing ceremony next Thursday at noon in the Ida Brooks Practice Gym at the north end of Bob Witt Gymnasium.  Bork-Gregg is going to McKendree University where she will continue her wrestling career.
   The Martins are sprinters where they will continue their brilliant track future at Harvard.
   We already have featured Sassano in a previous print edition and will have more on the Martins and Bork-Gregg in a future print edition of the Decatur Tribune.
   District 61 announced the forthcoming signings in a news release this morning (Wednesday).

Ashley Van Etten Resigns

   St. Teresa is looking for a new girls basketball head coach after Ashley Van Etten resigned Monday.
   Principal Larry Daly announced late this morning (Monday) that Van Etten submitted her resignation earlier and that applications to succeed her are now being accepted.
   VanEtten coached the Bulldogs to back-to-back regional championships and bowed out of the sectional competition this year with a loss to eventual state champion Danville Schlarman.  Her lady Bulldogs finished the season with a 22-7 won-loss record.
    In announcing her resignation, Principal Daly wrote in a statement the school released, "Ashley has worked hard for the St. Teresa basketball program, and has seen much success these last four years.  We will certainly miss her at St. Teresa."
   Athletic Director Todd Vohland stated, "During my 19 years here at St. Teresa, we have been blessed with many great girls' basketball coaches.  Ashley VanEtten continued that tradition.  Ashley's teams didn't just succeed on the court, but they also excelled off the court.  She has been a pleasure to work with, and our school and her players are better off because of the time she spent here."
   VanEtten is the second girls coach to resign since the 2017-18 school year began as Rhonda Glidewell earlier resigned as the school's volleyball head coach.
   I will have more on this developing story in a future print edition of the Decatur Tribune.

ADs Making Best of Weather 

   "Isn't this weather unreal!
   "I enjoy a White Christmas as much as anyone, but a white Easter?  Who prays for that?"  
   That's the quip from LSA Athletic Director Kurt Younghouse to my inquiry of our city and county athletic directors about the situations they're dealing with this spring with the weather we're experiencing.  
   Continuing, Younghouse informed, "This season we have already postponed more girls soccer games then my previous four years combined.  
    "One always expects cancellations, but this has been a very peculiar year as we aren't even one month into it.  I heard from a local coach that hasn't played a baseball game in over 17 days.
   "That's unreal!
   "LSA baseball has been fortunate enough to have some opponents that are willing to play in unfavorable conditions.  My heart goes out to all the spectators; the ones who show up and watch the games and for the ones unable to because of the weather. 
   "Let's hope the second half of the season is just the opposite as the first half which is possible because it is Central Illinois.  When you think you have the weather figured out, it will throw you a curveball and change dramatically," concluded Younghouse.
   Warrensburg-Latham's Craig Olson offered, "Coping would be a good description.  Since we cannot control Mother Nature, we are doing the best we can.  If I cancel a baseball or softball game that is non-conference, I usually do not try to make it up.  At this time I am working with our conference (Central Illinois) ADs (Athletic Directors) on rescheduling three conference games for softball and baseball.  "If I can to cancel a non-conference softball/baseball to play a conference game, other AD's are understanding because we are all in the same boat together.  Officials are good to work with and have had to be flexible with their schedules also.  
   "We have only had a couple of track meets due to the weather and one of them was call half-way through.  Soccer has been the one sport that has endured through most weather conditions.  Looks like we are getting a break this week after today (Monday, April 9)," concluded Olson.
   Maroa-Forsyth's Phil Applebee opined, "This spring has been extremely difficult concerning the weather.  We are already in an officials shortage and when you are rescheduling all these games the pool becomes even smaller.  The other tough thing is balancing the well-being and safety of the student-athletes with making sure we are playing enough games to be prepared for the post-season.  
   "All of the other ADs are great to work with, and we all understand the problems springs like this cause." 
   These are the comments from three of the athletic directors I have received about how this inclement weather is affecting their scheduling of games, officials and the problems the weather creates for parents, who are bundled up like its the November football playoffs.  I will have more on this story in my April 18 Irish Stew. 

Feliz Commits to Illini 

   Head Coach Brad Underwood added to his Illinois 2018-19 backcourt Sunday morning with the commitment of Northwest Florida State's Andres Feliz.  The 6-foot-2 guard is ranked as the top junior college point guard in the country and the number 12 overall JC prospect.  
   In an Instagram post, Feliz wrote, "I am extremely excited that I will be continuing my education and basketball career at the University of Illinois.  I want to say thanks to family, friends, coaches and teammates for helping me to become a better player, but even a better person." 
   Feliz led NW Florida State to a 31-3 record this past season as the Raiders advanced to the National Junior College Athletic Association Division 1 tournament.  He averaged 20 points, 6.1 assists, 5.7 rebounds and 2.1 steals per game and became NW Florida State's all-time assists leader.  
   I will have more on this developing story in a future print edition of the Decatur Tribune.

Cluver Recalls Brian Brooks

    Long-time St. Joseph-Ogden Spartans boys basketball head coach Brian Brooks announced his retirement from the game he's coached successfully for years there, including a super-sectional game in Redbird Arena against Chad Cluver's Maroa-Forsyth Trojans, less than 48 hours after their standout guard Robert (Robo) Kreps) had an emergency appendectomy the previous weekend and was in street clothes on the bench.
       Only the coaching staff and Trojans themselves believed they could handle Brooks' Spartans that evening, but they did which was their first step toward their championship season in March 2007 in Peoria's Civic Center's Carver Arena.
   While Kreps did not play in the super-sectional win, he did play in their three games in Peoria, including their double overtime semi-final win over Teutopolis.  And then won the title with their pulsating, heart-stopping win over Chicago North Lawndale.
       Here's Cluver's reflections on Brooks and his contributions to prep basketball, "Coach Brooks did it the right way.  You knew going into a game vs. SJO that you were going to be guarded hard and that they were going to be well-prepared.  I knew that my teams would be better after playing a Brian Brooks-coached team.  I also knew I would learn a lot about my team and our weaknesses.     
       "I have the upmost respect for Coach Brooks and wish him the best," concluded Cluver about the retiring basketball head coach, but is remaining as superintendent of the district.
   Although never actually coaching against him, Mount Zion's Bryon Graven offered this perspective, "never coached against him, but always respected his teams.  I can remember Coach Brooks being on staff at Riverton when I was playing for Auburn in the early 2000s.  I am sure he learned a great deal from Coach (Joe) Koger) at Riverton during his time there, and I always watched his teams through social media, newspapers or at the state tournament.
   "I always respected how he went from being an assistant to being a great head coach at another school.  A lot of people probably do not realize how hard that is to do, and he accomplished it," responded the Braves head coach.
       In his 15 years courtside with the Spartans, Brooks compiled an overall record of 324-121 in 15 years, including a fourth place state finish in 2013 and a state championship three years later in 2016.  His teams won nine regionals, three sectionals and two super-sectionals in their fourth place and state title seasons.

Eisenhower's Sassano Picks
Dartmouth to play Rugby

   Seven Sassano has never played rugby, but her aggressiveness on the basketball courts fits well with the rugby style which Lauren Doyle, formerly of Meridian and Eastern Illinois, parlayed into competing in the Olympics.
   Sassano recently completed her brilliant Eisenhower basketball career as the school's only 1,000 point and 1,000 rebounder in history.  
   With the encouragement of many, Sassano seriously starting looking into that for her to continue her athletic career which she says, "I never considered before until last summer."
   That's when she sent letters of the Ivy League schools about their possible interest in her as a member of their rugby teams and became really excited when letters of confirmation started arriving advising her of their interest.
   In previous stories here and in print editions of the Decatur Tribune, Sassano's interest in government, politics and political science have been well chronicled.
   "They flew me out and the campus is gorgeous, located in the mountains and a little isolated, but they have a lot of activities scheduled for students, like rock climbing, camping, logging, among others.  
   "And I loved the girls, who were awesome, sitting around talking about politics, history and political science everything I'm interested I, and the coaches were great," said Sassano in this afternoon's interview that her basketball coach Sean Flaherty arranged.
   I will have more on my in-depth interview with Seven in a future print edition of the Decatur Tribune.

Official Doesn't Expect Effect on Coaches

   "I don't foresee a problem for any of these coaches and all but one are security officers."
   That's the response I received from Michael J. Dugan, assistant superintendent of secondary in District 61, to my inquiries about what effect the school board's decision to eliminate the teaching assistant positions would have four of our major public school coaches.
   Derek Spates, MacArthur's football head coach, is the only teaching assistant among the four I asked him about with the others being Eisenhower's football new hire Curtis Graham and MacArthur's basketball head coach Ron Ingram and his top assistant Tarise Bryson.
   Dugan explained that Spates was the teaching assistant with the other three being security officers.  Security officers are not affected by the board's decision to eliminate teaching assistants.
   Immediately after, there was some concern that these four coaches were in danger of losing their jobs.  Spates is a former MacArthur standout football player and has been coaching Generals football for 11 years where he has taken the team to the playoffs six times, including last fall when they compiled an 8-3 record.  His overall record for these 11 years is 54-56.
   I will have more on this developing story in a future print edition of the Decatur Tribune.

A Shoutout To Four
First-Year Head Coaches

       A shoutout to these four first-year head coaches and their schools, Matt Hall at Argenta-Oreana, Brandon Willard at Cerro Gordo-Bement, Rich Gross at Decatur Christian and Blake Reynolds at Maroa-Forsyth, whose respective teams did not have the kind of seasons they wanted when practices began back in November. 
    They encouraged, nurtured and never said anything negative about their players despite the seasons they had on the scoreboard which speaks volumes for their character and that's the way to lay the foundation for future seasons.
       Although Tom Saunches was in his first season as LSA's head coach, he is not a first year head coach after years of roaming courtsides at Argenta-Oreana from which he retired before the Lions position opened that allowed him to return to the game he loves to coach.
       While they also aren't first-year head coaches, it was fun to watch Ron Ingram and Rodney Walker mold their respective Eisenhower and MacArthur teams into their personalities and convincing their student-athletes to do things the way they want which was not always easy for either of them or their players as there was a lot of personality-clashes and differences of opinion on how things should be done and carried out.  
       But in the end the coaches always win and their teams represented that, especially at MacArthur where Ingram's team went on their late season run to put a smile on he and his staff's collective faces.
       One of those games involved in their run was their win over Springfield Southeast when they were ranked number one in the state and who recently concluded their season as the state's Class 3A runnerup.
   But the Generals put a scare into their head coach and the MacArthur community as a whole and the Central State Eight when the coach became ill following their loss at Lanphier where he was hospitalized briefly for what was being to be an angina attack.  As I wrote him and talked with him about before their next game health is more important than the results of any prep contest.  
       Also, a word about all the time athletic directors and their representatives spend in their respective gyms organizing and administering to the details it takes to successfully host events, from the hiring of officials, to making sure there are sufficient ticket takers, bench officials (scorers, timers and public address announcers), to the student managers who assist their coaches and their players with much of the mundane tasks before, during and after games.  
       And then there's all those who work in the concession stands to fill the appetites of the fans who attend these games.  Security is another area that has earned some love for their attendance at the games where everyone hopes they are not needed, but are present if they are.

Southeast Second,
Continues Soy Quality

       I've written often in this space that no one does Thanksgiving tournament basketball better than Mel Roustio and the latest proof came last Saturday afternoon in Peoria Civic Center's Carver Arena where Lawrence Thomas and his Southeast Spartans finished runnerup to Morgan Park, who won back-to-back titles and their fourth in the last six years.  
   The final score was 71-56.
   Southeast's second place finish ties Springfield Lanphier (who finished second in 2002) for the highest Central State Eight finish in state tournament play when the Lions were playing in the Team Soy Capital tournament. 
   Springfield Southeast's second place Saturday afternoon in the Class 3A championship game is the highest finish of any team competing in the 48-year history of the Team Soy Capital Decatur Thanksgiving tournament since Dan Ruffin's Peoria Central Lions won the championship in 2011-12.
   And Rob Brost's Bolingbrook team placed third in two of the last four years now, achieving that in 2016-17 and 2014-15.
   I remind that retired Harvey Thornton retired coach Troy Jackson's Wildcats finished third in the state tournament in the 2008-09 season.
   And retired Peoria Central head coach, Chuck Buescher's Lions won back-to-back championships in 2002-03 and 2003-04.
       Since 2002-03, Bolingbrook, Harvey Thornton, Peoria Central and Southeast have won state tournament hardware after starting their season competing here in the Team Soy tournament which is why Roustio and his corporate sponsors call it downstate Illinois' best Thanksgiving tournament.  They're right, no one does it better than they and I've been covering it every year that its been competed. 
   Last November Southeast placed fifth in the 48th annual tournament here.
       Fast forward to last Saturday afternoon in Peoria' Civic Center where Thomas' Spartans placed second.
       Thomas said after watching his team dismantle North Chicago, 60-38, "This is who we've been all year.  We've been tough on teams.  People got a chance to see how Southeast basketball has been the whole year.  These kids come to battle."
       They certainly do as all Decatur and Macon County fans know from watching them play Eisenhower and MacArthur here in their head-to-head Central State Eight conference battles.
   Southeast and last year's Class 3A champion, Morgan Park, went at it Saturday afternoon for the Class 3A championship and after the final horn sounded the Chicago school had their back-to-back titles and fourth in the last six years.  They were led, of course, by Illinois commit, Ayo Dsonumu, who hit a half-court buzzer beater at the end of the third quarter to give the champions an insurmountable, 54-45, lead going into the final eight minutes.  Illinois Head Coach Brad Underwood and one of his assistants were at the game to watch Ayo lead all scorers with 28 points.
       Thomas' Spartans were attempting to become the first team from the Team Soy Capital tournament to win a state title since Ruffin's Lions won it all in 2011-12, also in 3A. 
       An interesting note is Ruffin's Lions beat North Chicago for their title in 2012, who the Spartans beat last Friday afternoon in the semi-finals.
       Southeast advanced to the state tournament with a 56-51 victory over Marion in the Springfield super-sectional that gave the Spartans their first ever appearance and sent Thomas to the Peoria Civic Center.
       The Spartans finish once again illustrates the quality Roustio puts together year after year after year and why the Stephen Decatur Middle School stands are filled each Thanksgiving weekend as no one downstate does Thanksgiving tournaments better than he.         
        Roustio writes, "We are delighted to watch Southeast represent downstate high school basketball and Decatur's Team Soy Capital Thanksgiving tournament in the Class 3A state finals.
    "The Springfield Southeast 2018 basketball team checks all the boxes.  They have a talented group of predominantly underclass youngsters who accept and function cohesively in their respective roles. 
    "They play a consistent defensive brand of ball. Coach Lawrence Thomas is one of the best coaches in downstate Illinois and demonstrates that with competitive teams year in and year out.  Thomas has surrounded himself with a quality staff which is a strong positive," concluded Roustio about Southeast and Thomas.
   I also expect Southeast to be Roustio's number one seed next Thanksgiving as Thomas returns all but two from this year's runnerup team.  Its seed will be well-deserved as Anthony Fairlee heads the cast, who last week was named first team all-state Class 3A and teammate guard Terrion Murdix was named honorable mention.  Fairlee was named to last Thanksgiving's Team Soy all-tournament team.
   One more note about the Southeast Spartans, the MacArthur Generals were the last team to beat the Spartans when the Spartans were without their mercurial and diminutive guard Murdix which was before last Saturday afternoon.
   It was quite a year for Thomas, his Spartans, the school, the Springfield community and the Central State Eight conference.


J. Thomas McNamara
Sports Editor

Decatur Tribune
Email Tom at

Check out McNamara's "Irish Stew" every week in the print edition of the Decatur Tribune.
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