Can anyone beat Simeon at Pontiac?


Can anyone beat Simeon at Pontiac?

The history of the Pontiac Holiday Tournament, which began in 1926, is filled with great teams, coaches and players from Centralia to Simeon, from Arthur Trout to Robert Smith, from Dike Eddleman to Jabari Parker.

Don Cash Seaton, Pontiac's coach at the time, founded the event because he believed there needed to be something for the high school basketball players to do during the holidays, to help them prepare for the state tournament in March.

Seaton's motivation went further. He sought to attract teams from all regions of Illinois and he especially looked for teams with different styles of play. He was eager to pit teams against teams that normally didn't compete against one another.

Over the decades, Pontiac has attracted virtually all of the most celebrated and successful programs in the state, including Taylorville, Centralia, Quincy, Bloom, Lockport, Peoria Manual, Pekin, West Aurora, Rock Island, Collinsville, Proviso East, La Salle-Peru, Peoria Central, Peoria Richwoods, East Moline, Carbondale and Simeon.

"What I enjoy most," said tournament director Jim Drengwitz, "is that I can recall former principal Roger Tuttlet telling me that the tournament is like homecoming. People show up for the tournament. You don't see them any other time of the year."

Drengwitz, who was principal at Pontiac from 1994 to 2007 and has served as tournament director since 1994, said his mission is to persuade the best teams available from different geographic locations in the state to come to Pontiac for the holidays.

"We don't have the diversity that we had 30 years ago because of the proliferation of holiday tournaments throughout the state," he said. "But this year I'd stack it up with any tournament in Illinois--with Simeon, Warren, Curie and Peoria Manual."

The 81st annual Pontiac Holiday Tournament is scheduled for Dec. 28-30. The opening-round pairings will pit West Aurora vs. Danville, Curie vs. Niles West, Joliet vs. Waukegan and Warren vs. Plainfield North in the upper bracket with East Moline vs. Lockport, Simeon vs. Bloomington, Peoria Manual vs. Pontiac and Oak Park vs. St. Charles North in the lower bracket.

Old-timers remember the way it was. The Palomar Motel, which once housed all the participating teams, closed 20 years ago. But local businesses such as Wright's Furniture, Pontiac Sports, Bank of Pontiac and Pfaff's Bakery have supported the three-day event for years. Local radio station WJEX-FM broadcasts every game live with Mark Myre and his staff doing play-by-play.

"Fans have shown up for years, from the 1960s and 1970s," Drengwitz said. "They appreciate the hospitality of the community and the barbecue sandwiches, always a staple of the tournament. They know we have a good product."

Old-timers talk about Jerry Leggett and his great Quincy teams of the 1980s. They recall how outgoing Leggett was. They still talk about the QuincyProvidence game that pitted Michael Payne against Walter Downing.

They talk about Wes Mason and his outstanding Bloom teams of the 1970s. And they recall Bloom star Audie Matthews, who later played at Illinois. They talk about the coaches, including Will Kellogg of Brother Rice, John McDougal and Gordon Kerkman of West Aurora, Bob Basarich of Lockport, Bob Hambric of Simeon, Dick Van Sycoc and Wayne McClain of Peoria Manual and Jack Margenthaler of La Salle-Peru, who added flavor to the tournament.

No tournament has as much history as Pontiac. Adolph Rupp took his Freeport teams to Pontiac in the 1920s, before he left to become the legendary Baron of the Bluegrass at Kentucky. Centralia's Arthur Trout and Dike Eddleman were there before Trout left to found his own holiday tournament at Centralia in the 1940s.

The A.C. Williamson Award didn't start out as an MVP award. Originally, it was selected by floor officials and presented to the player who best exemplified sportsmanship and leadership. Over time, however, it has become an MVP award that recognizes the best player in the tournament. Simeon's Derrick Rose and Peoria Manual's Howard Nathan are the only two-time recipients. But Simeon's Jabari Parker won last year as a sophomore. So he could be a three-time winner.

The all-time Pontiac team? You could win a few games with Derrick Rose, Howard Nathan, Bruce Douglas, Sergio McClain and Kenny Battle. But you might have to find room for Jabari Parker, Walter Downing, Dike Eddleman, Alando Tucker, Audie Matthews and Bob Bender.

And this is the trivia topper: Seaton invited a friend, James Naismith, the founder of the game and former coach at Kansas, to speak at a post-tournament banquet. Naismith said he was amazed at how his invention had taken off, how people would be so excited to watch kids shooting a round ball at a peach basket.

Drengwitz said the biggest fear for tournament organizers and officials always is weather. But there never has been a cancellation. Another fear is if the top-rated team lost its first two games and was eliminated. But that hasn't happened, either.

Officials always hope that Pontiac will do well so more local fans will attend the event. But Pontiac has won only once, in 1974. "We don't build the tournament around Pontiac," Drengwitz said.

He admits he doesn't see much of the tournament, however. "I'm mainly working, making sure everyone is where they are supposed to be. But the coaches are fun to work with. I have developed good friendships with many of them over the years," he said.

And he can't pass up a barbecue sandwich.

Griffins hope to avoid 'sick feeling' going forward after blowout loss to Bradley

Griffins hope to avoid 'sick feeling' going forward after blowout loss to Bradley

Not all losses are created equal.

When Lincoln-Way East suffered a 35-30 defeat in Week 3 to Homewood-Flossmoor, the Griffins took positives away from the loss. They had held a 14-0 lead in the first quarter, battled back from adversity in the second half and had a chance to win the game in the final minute. Even that loss in retrospect appeared acceptable – if there ever was an acceptable loss – as the Vikings are currently 8-0 and in their other seven wins have outscored their opponents by an average of 38 points.

By Week 3 the Griffins were still acclimating to the unique situation of playing at game speed with a host of Lincoln-Way North students who had transferred in the offseason. They had a defense made up almost entirely of first-year starters, and the offense was still rotating quarterbacks Jake Arthur and Max Shafer to figure out how to maximize their talent. By many standards the Griffins went toe-to-toe for 48 minutes with a team also considered to be a favorite for a state title.

The same couldn’t be said for the Griffins’ effort last Friday night in Bradley.

An esteemed program with a 2005 state title and 16 consecutive playoff appearances to their resume, it isn’t often the Griffins are embarrassed on Friday night. But those were the words head coach Rob Zvonar used in his postgame speech to the team following their 38-21 loss to the undefeated Boilermakers.

“We chose to play the game,” Zvonar began. “Which means you play it to the greatest of your ability and you honor each other, God, everybody by your play. And we didn’t do that tonight.”

There were plenty of reasons the Griffins suffered their second loss of the season. That is came in such blowout fashion was the bigger surprise. The Boilermakers found the end zone on their first two possessions, rallying behind a raucous home crowd hoping to see their team go 8-0 for the first time in school history.

The Griffins defense, which had allowed 27 points the previous three weeks combined, were on their heels as the Boilermakers used misdirection and a few trick plays to set up the short touchdown runs.

The Griffins offense moved down the field on their fourth possession, moving inside the Boilermakers red zone looking to get on the board. But Iowa commit Camron Harrell stepped in front of a Griffins screen pass on 4th down and returned it 89 yards for a score. On the final play of the first quarter, with the Griffins moving again, Damien Williams read a route and picked off Jake Arthur, returning it 53 yards for a score to give the Boilermakers a shocking 28-0 lead after 12 minutes.

After a spirited halftime speech from Zvonar, the Griffins came out firing in the second half, scoring on a touchdown run from Nigel Muhammad and a Jeremy Nelson 27-yard reception from Arthur. But the Boilermakers weathered the storm each time Lincoln-Way East attempted a comeback. The Griffins only got as close as 14 points late in the fourth quarter.

“I think we came into this game not ready,” said Muhammad, who finished with 164 yards on 24 carries. “But we’re all a team and we all accept this loss together.”

Added senior Jack Carroll, who finished with a team-high nine tackles: “We have this sick feeling in our stomach right now but the best thing is (next) Friday we can come back and get it out of our stomach. If we lose again in the playoffs then we’ll have that sick feeling in our stomach for the rest of our lives.”

That’s now the reality for the Griffins, and a silver lining if there ever could be one for such a blowout loss. With the playoffs a mere week away – the Griffins defeated Lockport on Friday to finish the regular season 7-2 – the feeling each of them felt getting on the bus back to Frankfort will linger with them and act as a reminder of how quickly things can slip away.

“We’re trying to put this behind us,” said Max Shafer. “We’re going to try to get hot and make a run in the playoffs.”

In a loaded 8A class, the Griffins’ two regular-season losses have already knocked them down in the seeding process. While any loss before Week 9 means little in the long run – the Griffins locked up a playoff berth weeks ago – it also means a more difficult road to Champaign. But that’s the reality for Zvonar’s group, and whether it’s a defense playing faster or an offense avoiding costly mistakes, the Griffins are running out of time to right the ship.

But Zvonar believes such a loss as the team suffered last Friday night can act as the catalyst to doing just that. The Griffins have established themselves as one of the state’s premier programs, and that means not riding the highs too high, and not breaking apart when the lows come. Last Friday night was as low as Zvonar had seen any of his 16 teams, but the silver lining occurred in that his squad now knows what it has to do to avoid it when it’s win or go home.

“What we also think is that the program is built on a solid foundation, so when you take a little hit like that you battle back and you go back to what you believe in and what you know can be successful. And that’s fundamentals and keeping things simple, and the kids have bounced back and they’re not acceptable to them what occurred to them, so very proud of their effort and the way they’re working.

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