College Football Reporter/Columnist

Bob Asmussen is a college football reporter and columnist for The News-Gazette. His email is asmussen@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@BobAsmussen).

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FLATVILLE — There’s a space in a glass case at Prairieview-Ogden Junior High with a sign that reads “Home of the New 7th Grade Boys Basketball State Trophy!”

The only unknown: Whether it is for first or second place.

That will be determined tonight at East Peoria Central Junior High, when the 22-4 Mustangs face 28-1 West Lincoln-Broadwell for the IESA Class 1A state title.

Thanks to the 7:30 p.m. tipoff, the players can attend classes before making the trip. A fan bus is taking 40 students to the game.

But first, a pep assembly at the school of 51. It is set for 2 p.m. today, unless the school’s eighth-grade boys’ basketball team advanced to state in Wednesday’s scheduled sectional game at Chrisman. If that happened, the fun starts at 1:45.

The sound system will be turned up loud as the 10-player seventh-grade team is introduced “Chicago Bulls style.”

That means lots of music and cheering from the stands, which figure to be jammed with students and supporters.

There are 13 boys’ in the seventh grade at Prairieview-Ogden, and six are on the team. Four sixth-graders from South Elementary complete the seventh-grade roster.

Assistant Principal Carl Heuer raves about the character of the players.

“They root each other on, 1 through 10,” he said.

“You’ve got to give the parents that credit too, morals and values,” said district Superintendent Vic White. “They also support the school, which helps us join together.”

The Mustangs trailed Normal Epiphany by double digits in the semifinal round before rallying for a 36-35 victory.

“There were a couple of sixth-graders in the locker room in tears because they were so happy to be a part of the team,” Heuer said. “That goes to show you the buy-in they have and how much it means to them to be called up.”

Since the big win, there has been “a lot of excitement in the hallways,” Heuer said.

He announced the semifinal results over the loudspeaker Monday. Twice.

If you are at the school, with all of eight employees, you can’t help but know about the team.

‘The cherry on top would be winning it’

Nestled in quaint Flatville, the junior high was built in the 1950s. The original tile court in the gym got replaced by a more basketball-friendly wood model in 2005.

For home games, the stands are usually packed.

Second-, third- and fourth-graders from the district made posters in art class in support of the players.

There is a connection between all the cities represented at the school: Ogden, Royal and Flatville.

“They are very supportive of our school and our sports,” White said. “We’ll have a good following, even at away games. You go to an away game and you feel like you’re at your home court because you’ve got this huge crowd there.”

On the gym’s wall, banners celebrate each state trophy won by the school over the years. There are nine in all.

“We’ve been very, very fortunate to have very good sports programs, along with very good academics,” White said.

The last trophy in boys’ basketball came in 2009. Current assistant coach Jamey Gilliland was a member of the team. His brother, Chase, is now the Mustangs’ head coach. Past meets present.

The school has never won a state championship — in any sport. Maybe this time.

“Right now, we’ve got the cake and frosting,” White said. “The cherry on top would be winning it.”

It will be one of the last chances to earn a title for White, who is retiring in June after 24 years in charge.

Students from the school funnel to three different high schools. The bulk of them go to St. Joseph-Ogden, with the rest attending Rantoul or Armstrong.

Your rival today might be your teammate next season.

Earlier in the season, Prairieview-Ogden found itself in a close game against St. Joseph Middle School. The Mustangs lost after a late rally.

St. Joseph plays for the Class 3A state title today.

“We root for them,” White said.

‘That we made it here is just crazy’

Coy Taylor is looking forward to tonight’s title game. One of the top players on the team, he is the son of St. Joseph-Ogden girls’ basketball coach Kevin Taylor. Dad coached the 2009 Prairieview-Ogden team that brought home a state trophy.

How does Coy Taylor feel about the current run?

“It’s been great. I love it,” the 13-year-old said.

His dad’s past success doesn’t add any pressure.

“I just have a lot of fun,” Coy Taylor said.

The title game provides a chance to make history with guys he has known since kindergarten.

“It means a lot,” he said. “The fact we made it there is just crazy.”

After clinching a spot in the title game, Taylor and his teammates got plenty of pats on the back from students, teachers and staff.

“Everyone was happy for us,” Taylor said.

The seventh-graders move up a class next season. Maybe another trip to the state finals. And the need to find more room in the trophy case.

“It would be nice to do that,” Taylor said.