Top of the Morning, March 23, 2014

Top of the Morning, March 23, 2014

One of my favorite parts of each day's A-2 is Tom Kacich's area history roundup.

Saturday's 50-years-ago installment was a doozy: "Pekin's Chinks won the title of most unpopular high school champions in 57 years Saturday night. They didn't do it by hitting their mothers in public or anything else that was less than gentlemanly. What they did was beat tiny Cobden (147 students) of southern Illinois, 50-45, and to the Assembly Hall crowd of 16,128, that was the same as telling the innocent there was really no Santa Claus."

At 2 p.m. today at St. Joseph Church in Cobden, they're celebrating the Appleknockers' amazing run to the 1964 boys' basketball title game. Former players will join fans to watch a tape of the game on a 70-inch screen and swap tall tales. Judy Travelstead of the Union County Historical Society, one of the reunion's hosts, filled us in:

— They weren't always the Appleknockers. Once the Maroons, Cobden decided to change its nickname in the 1920s. It came down to Peach Pickers and Appleknockers, and students voted for the latter.

— The team traveled to Champaign by train only after convincing Illinois Central Railroad to pick up and drop off in Cobden, something it hadn't done in years. An estimated 4,000 people welcomed home the Appleknockers afterward. "Because they lost, the players thought no one would want to come welcome them home. Boy were they wrong," Travelstead said.

— Then N-G sports editor Ed O'Neil's lead (the text above in italics) was spot on. Pekin had as many fans in the sold-out Assembly Hall as Indiana does now when it visits. "Cobden captured the imagination and hearts of the people," Travelstead said. Sorta like "Hoosiers" minus the winning basket. "Certainly in that same context," she said.

— Pekin really did win. "Fifty years later, most people will tell you Cobden won," Travelstead said. "If you're in the Midwest and you tell someone you're from Cobden, they'll say 'I remember when you won the state tournament.' It's reached a point where we just say 'Yeah, we won,' including the players."

— Cobden defied all kinds of odds — and not just its enrollment (the high school had one working telephone). Team captain Tom Crowell died in a drowning accident in May '63. "You always ask 'What if?' How good would they have been?" Travelstead said. "They turned it into 'Win one for Tom.' ... It was a great story and the mystique continues today."

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