ST. JOSEPH — Head basketball coach Brian Brooks thinks St. Joseph-Ogden High School has the best fan community and the best student section in the state.
The team itself came up just a bit short — it placed fourth in the 2A state tournament in Peoria this weekend — but you wouldn't have guessed that by the reception the team got upon its return to its home court Sunday.
"Our community rallies around every aspect of this school," said Brooks, who is also the high school principal.
The team hitched a ride back to school on a fire engine escorted by police with sirens blaring. They waved and lifted their trophy in front of onlookers who lined Main Street outside of the high school awaiting their return.
Right behind the fire engine came the parents and fans, horns honking and cars painted with cheers of support like "Go Spartans" and "SJ-O Final Four."
For a town of about 4,000, its fan base travels well. Brooks saw "a ton" of Spartan fans in Peoria.
"We had more fans than any of the eight teams there," Brooks said.
In the gym where they celebrated Sunday, banners hang for state championships in boys' and girls' cross country, track and softball. Basketball is missing from the collection of banners.
Fourth place in the state tournament was the school's best-ever finish, and the team's accomplishment will add a nice piece of hardware to the cafeteria trophy case.
"There's a reason why there's not one in there yet," Brooks said. "It's because it's hard."
James Acklin of Paris is father to district superintendent Jim Acklin and grandfather to senior forward Louis Acklin. He said he was able to attend most of the team's games this season.
He said the seniors on this team have come a long way since their 2-25 freshman year to collect a 29-3 regular-season record and a fourth-place finish.
"An awesome season," James Acklin said. "To infinity."
Senior Corbin Hesterberg was not sure if he would be able to play in the tournament after twisting his ankle in practice a few days before. But he was ready to go at game time, even though he wore a special boot to Sunday's rally.
Senior Chase Patton said the season was special and something he will never forget.
"The community is crazy," Patton said. "It's a lot easier to play when you have your entire town behind you."
He said his cousin, Riley Patton, "was probably the loudest kid out there."
Riley Patton, a sophomore at St. Joseph-Ogden, sits in the student section, the Maroon Platoon. He said he had a lot of fun throughout the fourth-place season.
"We did good," Riley Patton said. "I don't care what anyone says."
He might have been at his loudest this weekend in Peoria, he said through a hoarse voice.
"I lost my voice this weekend," he said.