TOLONO — Justin Deters has already matched his siblings’ athletic success. Today, the Unity junior will take aim at his mother’s achievements.
Attending a school with a rich tradition in athletics — top-two state finishes in five team sports — Deters is from a family whose legacy in sports is nearly as long as a football field.
Conversations about bragging rights necessarily start with championship-game appearances.
Four of Jim and Diane Deters’ five children have been on Unity teams that qualified for state. Justin is the third to participate in an IHSA title contest.
He will quarterback the 12-1 Rockets in today’s 4 p.m. Class 3A contest at Memorial Stadium against 12-1 Aurora Christian.
Justin Deters won’t take the field at Memorial Stadium for the first time today.
“I was the ball boy in 2005,” he said. “I got to experience the success. I couldn’t appreciate it, but it was nice to see.”
He enjoyed being around the team because it allowed him the chance to hang with his brother Henry, who graduated as the state’s career rushing leader.
Though Justin effectively runs the ball, there haven’t been a lot of comparisons to Henry. For years, Justin has focused on the quarterback position.
“I wanted to avoid all that, ‘Will he be as good as his brother,’ ” Justin Deters said. “Quarterback is a completely different position than fullback.”
Nonetheless, veteran Unity fans can’t help but see some similarities.
“I’ve seen him do some of the same stuff I do,” Justin Deters said. “People call it the patented Deters Cutback Move. That’s one of the ways we are the same.”
Jim Deters and the former Diane Carie grew up in Teutopolis, which has a storied basketball history unlike most other communities in the state.
“We didn’t have football, so when we moved up here in 1995, football was new to us,” Jim Deters said. “We found out pretty quickly how big it was in Unity.”
Though Jim and Diane have served as youth coaches in various sports — Diane ran Tolono’s soccer program for nearly a decade — they kept their distance from football.
“I coached all my kids at St. Thomas Grade School in Philo, but not in football,” Jim Deters said. “I didn’t feel I knew enough that I could teach them much of anything.”
That didn’t stop the boys from finding their way into the rough-and-tumble game.
“I’ve played quarterback since fifth grade,” Justin Deters said, “and it has built up. It’s second nature, and I’m able to make educated guesses (about what to expect).”
Scott Hamilton coached Henry Deters. Now, he works with Justin Deters.
Hamilton keeps things in the present.
“We refer to Henry as Justin’s brother, not to Justin as Henry’s brother,” he said. “They’re both great kids who were willing to get better.”
For those insistent on comparison, Justin’s combined offense as a junior (2,321 yards with one game remaining) is comparable to Henry’s total rushing yards from his junior season (2,416 yards).
“As the season has gone on, Justin has become a very good quarterback from a decision-making standpoint,” Hamilton said. “He’s a good runner. He’s the complete package.”
The Deters family doesn’t take for granted the prolonged success in athletics.
“You enjoy it a lot more when you don’t necessarily expect it to happen,” Jim Deters said. “We’ve always told the kids, ‘Do the best you can, try to get better every day and see what happens.’ ”
The pursuit of success is memorable, but when the result of a dedicated effort places a team such as Unity’s football program among the state’s elite, there is no greater reward.
“It’s pretty special,” Diane Deters said. “They’ve worked for it since they were little. We go with the flow and see who can do the best.”
It started with Carrie Deters; at least as far as the postseason prowess of Jim and Diane’s five children.
Carrie was on the first — and only — Unity scholastic bowl team to advance to state (2002). As a junior, she was part of a 28-10 team that lost in pool play to eventual state champion Chicago Latin.
Next up was Emily Deters, a 2005 graduate who didn’t make it to state with the Rockets but played softball at Kankakee Community College for a program that advanced to nationals.
Henry Deters graduated from Unity in 2006 following a football career where his records for single-game, single-season and career rushing marks are still the standard.
Ana Deters played for Unity’s volleyball state runner-up team as a senior in 2008 and went on to reach the nationals in basketball twice during her playing career at Parkland College.
“We argue about which one is the better athlete,” Ana Deters said. “It depends who you ask. We try to get our parents and aunts and uncles on our side.”
Jim Deters said it has been enjoyable to follow the progress of the children — and their teams — in such a variety of sports and activities. Before reaching high school, Henry and Justin Deters competed at state in cross-country.
“Every experience is different. Every team is different,” said Jim Deters, the chief financial officer for Premier Cooperative Inc. “I would say over the years we’ve grown up as parents, too. As you go through that experience you have a much better understanding of what is going on and how to react and respond to things with the fourth or fifth than you do with the first.
“I used to get a little more agitated when I was younger, but I don’t do that so much now.”
There’s one difference this year than in the past, from Ana Deters’ view. Before, when one of the children’s teams were achieving a position of state prominence, other siblings were in thriving youth programs or performing in college.
“Because he is the youngest we get to focus on Justin a little more,” Ana Deters said. “It’s completely different than it was for Henry and I. We’re really proud and are rooting for him as much as everyone else.”
Jim and Diane take as much pride in the developmental side of their children outside of athletics as in their performance on the playing field.
“Four of the five have been in National Honor Society,” Diane said.
Ana is finishing her degree at Eastern Illinois and will be student-teaching next fall. Henry is in graduate school in Chicago focusing on physical therapy.
They get the value of education naturally. Diane Deters is in her 18th year teaching at St. Thomas Grade School in Philo.
“My parents have always said, ‘Focus on what you do and give it 100 percent,’ ” said Justin Deters, a National Honor Society member.
It’s necessary to look beyond Jim and Diane Deters to trace back the athletic bloodlines in the family. That’s why even a state championship today in football may give Justin bragging rights among the five siblings but not in his home.
“I have a state championship in my back pocket,” Diane Deters said.
As a high school sophomore in 1978 she joined her junior sister Donna Carie and two other girls (Kris Cornell and Lisa Stevens) on Teutopolis’ winning mile relay team. The Carie girls returned to state in 1979 and were part of the third-place entry in the same event.
Diane’s father, Lawrence Carie, was Teutopolis’ basketball coach for 23 years, amassing 443 wins and a winning percentage of 71.9. Another of Diane’s sisters, Doris, was the first recipient of the state’s Ms. Basketball Award (1986) and went on to be a four-year letter winner at the University of Illinois.
Justin Deters doesn’t have to go far to seek advice about how to prepare for the big game. Family members have been there and done that.
“Treat it like another game and take care of business,” Ana Deters said.
“Henry would tell him to be yourself, prepare to play the best you can, don’t put pressure on yourself and go out and do what you’ve been doing for 13 games,” Jim Deters said.
“We won’t let it get to his head,” Diane Deters said. “We’ll do the same routine, and when it comes time, you need to play.”
If the Deters family doesn’t get to celebrate tonight, it has experience to draw on from the other side.
“You never want to end your season with a loss, and you’re upset that it’s over,” Ana Deters said. “You don’t realize what an accomplishment it is until later. It’s one of the highlights of my high school career.”
From Justin Deters’ perspective, however, today is the chance for separation.
“It’s nice to have a family with so much success,” he said, “but it would be nice to be one up on them.”
Fred Kroner is The News-Gazette’s prep sports coordinator. He writes a weekly high school-related column throughout the school year. He can be reached by phone at 217-351-5232, by fax at 217-373-7401 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @fredkroner.