As a young boy, I read the Chip Hilton books by Clair Bee. I loved every story and couldn’t wait for the next book in the series. This excerpt is also from my book Growing Up In Kinmundy Junction. Since it is now time for March Madness, I thought it fit the season.
The Hornets Are Going To State! The local paper put out a special edition with that headline. The whole town closed up on Friday as the Hornets and their fans headed to the Assembly Hall in Champaign. The Hornets would play in the opening game Friday afternoon against the Thornton Central Wildcats. Once the game got underway, it seemed that all of the fans, who were not from Thornton, were rooting for the Cinderella team from Kinmundy Junction. Many of the same fans had been here the previous year when Covington made a run at the title.
The first half was close with the lead changing hands eight times. The Hornets trailed by one point at the half. Coach Anderson changed strategy at the half. To open the second half, the Hornets were in a zone defense designed to stop the Wildcats center from getting the ball in the lane. The strategy worked, and the Wildcats become frustrated and turned the ball over twenty-one times in the second half alone. The Hornets won going away by twenty-three points. They were guaranteed a trophy.
Robert told the team, “We are not settling for just a trophy. There is only one trophy that we want.”
The rest of the team agreed with Robert.
Friday night at the motel, Coach Anderson told the team a story about three other small schools.
“Back in 1952 there was a team from Hebron. That’s way up north almost in Wisconsin. They were even smaller than our school, I think. Anyway, they played against the same school we will face tomorrow. In Indiana there was a team from a small town, Milan, and they beat Muncie Central, one of the biggest schools in the state to win the championship. Just last year we watched on this very court as the Covington Cornhuskers almost won the title.”
The boys remembered that game well. Coach Anderson asked them, “Do we want to be Cornhuskers? Do we want to be Cornhuskers?” he repeated for emphasis.
“No!” the whole team shouted as one voice. “We are Hornets, and we play like champions!”
“Get some rest boys. Tomorrow we play two games.”
Before the team left the motel Saturday for the Assembly Hall, they gathered for breakfast.
TyAnn sat by Robert and casually mentioned, “I know you have been a little preoccupied with basketball the last couple days, but you have forgotten something very important. Do you remember what today’s date is?”
Robert thought for a moment. It suddenly dawned on him.
TyAnn laughed as she told him, “Happy birthday, doofus.”
Saturday afternoon—Assembly Hall. The Hornets took the court for their pre-game warm-up and were kept loose by the humor of Kevin Ambuehl. Coach Anderson brought them over to the bench for some final instructions.
“Have any of you boys been on TV before this weekend?” Of course none of them had. “When I was a kid, I used to go the the movies all the time. I used to watch these western serials that were popular at the time. Every Saturday morning there would be a new episode. There was usually a sidekick to the main star. The sidekick was always the funny one it seemed.” Coach chuckled as he looked at Kevin.
The boys were wondering why Coach was telling them this right now.
“Anyway, I was thinking about those old movies.”
Robert spoke up, “Coach, are you going to tell us what to do about the game?”
“Oh, yeah. I forgot about the game. Well, I suppose you guys know what to do by now. You’ve been playing as a team for four years now. I remember that first practice when you were freshmen. I had to scrimmage against the seniors, who were bigger and more experienced. You kids played as a team and whooped them.” He paused for a moment and closed his eyes. When he opened them, he said, “Y’all go out there and have some fun. I’m going to sit back and enjoy the game while you kick their butts. I might even get in my afternoon nap. If I do fall asleep, don’t you guys wake me up, or else I’ll make you run extra laps!” Coach laughed and soon the whole team was cracking up on the bench.
When the game started, Quincy Falls, a long-time basketball powerhouse, had trouble settling down. They turned the ball over repeatedly and the Hornets took advantage. At halftime the Hornets led by twelve points. Robert caught fire as the second half started and made six shots in a row to double the lead. Quincy Falls never recovered and the Hornets won by twenty-three. The boys showered and came back out to watch the second game.
“They aren’t even tired,” Coach Anderson told Jim Benjamin.
“They’re so used to playing ball all day that a thirty-two minute game is barely enough to work up a sweat.”
Dad watched the second game between Collinsville and Lockport with Coach Anderson. He picked up on something that Lockport did that he thought the Hornets could exploit. In the third quarter of the game, it became obvious who the Hornets opponent would be. The boys headed back to the motel for some food and rest.
On the bus ride back to the Assembly Hall later that evening, Robert sat with TyAnn.
“Do you think it will be close?” she asked.
“Nah, we will beat them by thirty points,” Robert joked.
“Really,” TyAnn answered sarcastically.
Robert asked TyAnn, “Do you remember the homemade basket Dad made for us when we were little kids?”
“Of course I remember it. It’s still in the storage shed, you know.”
“Remember how I used to make you count backward from five down to zero as I was shooting?”
“That was preparation for today. Today I am going to make the winning basket as the clock runs out.”