Sports Column | John Homan: Basketball in small schools can also be entertaining

It’s hard to understand if you live in a big city. You get used to a certain style of basketball: a more physical, faster-paced type in which the referees sometimes swallow the whistle as players fall to the ground.

You won’t see many, if any, travel violations. Offensive fouls? Forget it! Don’t take the basketball calls either and you likely won’t see any four-corner offense.

But you might see them all at small school tournaments in rural areas like southern Illinois.

I had the chance to relive a part of my youth on Monday when I made the trip to Christopher to cover a couple of games in the Turkey Tournament. It was the 48th annual event – no mean feat.

While the basic layout of the gym remains the same as I remembered from the fall of 1979, the look is much more modern.

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

There is a lot more chair seating inside the facility these days and the lighting is better than I remember.

But some things have not changed. The stage is still the place for the media to sit at a table and watch a game. The locker rooms still have that 80’s vibe and the hospitality room is still the best or on a very short list of the best in our region. a wide variety of foods to choose from. I don’t know who runs it these days, but congratulations! As good as it was 40 years ago.

Getting back to the games … there were no dunks on Monday in either of the two games I watched, but there were plenty of 3-pointers and some acrobatic shots to the rim that sometimes resulted in points. The teams, in general, were patient on the offensive end and did not throw the ball at the first opportunity.

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

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

I had a nice time watching and covering both games on Monday. It reminded me of the first time I walked into that gym of Christopher’s in November of 1979 and saw all those Bearcats haircuts.

As a freshman in college, I was asked by the local newspaper, The Christopher Progress, to cover Zeigler-Royalton sports. And even though I had heard that the Black Diamond Conference was pretty strong, I thought I would get terribly bored watching small school basketball right after watching the South Seven Conference games in Carbondale, where I graduated.

I soon learned that there was no significant drop 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 some new bells and whistles, nothing much has changed.


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

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

Well done, Decatur. Sound of a hand clapping.

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

Next month, The Southern will select our Soccer Player of the Year. And let me tell you, it will not be an easy task. The candidates are many and all deserve.

John Homan is a sports reporter for The Southern. He can be reached at [email protected] or 618-925-0563.

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