Patriot nation comes together
Fans of Stevenson guard Jalen Brunson cheer after the Patriots' Class 4A state semifinal victory over Edwardsville Friday. | Michelle LaVigne~Sun-Times Media
Updated: May 20, 2013 2:19AM
PEORIA — It was early on the morning of March 14, less than 48 hours after Stevenson’s boys basketball team had qualified for the Class 4A state tournament.
Trish Betthauser, the school’s athletic director, was meeting with assistants Chad Dauphin and Aaron Wellington to discuss the weekend’s activities, which included offering several pep busses to take students to Peoria for Friday’s state semifinal game. The team was scheduled to leave later that morning, but the excitement surrounding the trip was tempered by a deflating reality: Only seven bus tickets had been sold.
“To be honest, my emotions were, ‘What do we do? Is this where we are as a community?’ ” Betthauser said.
At 10 a.m., the school held a send off for the Patriots basketball team inside the Forum, a room on campus that holds a few hundred people. Classes that day didn’t start until 10:30 a.m., and the room was packed with students and parents.
Stevenson coach Pat Ambrose grabbed the microphone, delivering a short, succinct message to the group.
“I wanted (to convey) thankfulness, appreciativeness,” Ambrose said. “Kind of that we are all one Patriot nation.”
As the school band and drum line played, the players boarded the bus for the 180-mile trip. Then, before classes started, the students sprung into action. Lines to buy tickets formed at the school’s box office. This continued through the lunch periods. By early afternoon, 305 tickets had been sold, equalling seven pep busses.
Word began to trickle out to Patriots players as they cruised down I-55, then I-74 toward Peoria. Still radiant from the send off, the Patriots were overwhelmed when they learned of the growing support for their semifinal game against Edwardsville.
“It was a great feeling to get some recognition from the school,” senior forward Jack Duffy said. “It gave the team even more motivation.”
Senior guard Andy Stempel added, “It was awesome. It got us more amped for state.”
Another player, senior guard Justin Berkson, wrote this minimalist message on Twitter: “#family.”
By the time Stevenson tipped off Friday night, all 859 tickets allotted to the school had been sold. Late in the fourth quarter, when it appeared that the Patriots would win, Betthauser and her assistants began planning for Saturday’s title game against Simeon. Nine pep busses (389 seats) were arranged to leave Stevenson by 3 p.m. for the scheduled 8:15 p.m. tip. Several hundred more tickets were made available for purchase online.
When the busses pulled in front of Carver Arena in Peoria just before 6:30 p.m., sections 16 and 17 were already beginning to fill. Friday’s whiteout theme had been replaced with black shirts for the title game.
As the Patriots took the court for warmups at 8:25 p.m., the Stevenson section was the loudest in the arena. Well over a thousand fans could be heard screaming chants of “Green and Gold!” or “Andy Stempel!”
Almost two hours later, the Patriots had lost to Simeon 58-40 in a game that was decided before the fourth quarter. As medals were awarded to players for the school’s first-ever runner-up finish, Stevenson fans crowded into the lower bowls of the arena. Unable to leave, they cheered after every name was read, soaking up every moment, sharing and celebrating as a united community.
“I went from questioning who we were to, ‘What else can we do?,’ ” Betthauser said. “It was amazing to see it all come together.”