News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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March 11, 2010

Illinois town goes all-out for boys team in state finals

Robinson streets, businesses decorated with support signs

ROBINSON, Ill. — It’s been nearly five generations since the Robinson Maroons played for the Illinois state basketball championship, and the town is ready to make history.

“The success comes from a long time ago and a lot of hard work,” Brian Siler said of this year’s team outside his office at Country Insurance & Financial Services in Robinson.

Siler’s sons, Austin, a senior, and Aaron, a freshman, hit the courts tonight in Peoria at the Illinois High School Athletic Association’s Class 2A Final Four Tournament.

Siler said this team has been playing together since they were fourth-graders. About eight years ago, the boys’ fathers got together and began taking the group through the tournament circuit of basketball programs such as AAU, traveling from Indianapolis to Bloomington, Ind., and back to towns in Illinois.

“These guys have been through a lot of tournaments together over the years,” he said, recalling when 7-foot senior Meyers Leonard was just a 6-foot eighth-grader wanting to be a guard.

The closest the Robinson High School Maroons have ever come to a state championship was their 1916 runner-up finish.

Over at Lincoln Elementary School, principal Kevin McConnell has saved pictures of the 1915 Maroon team on which his grandfather, Herman, played center.

“He was 6 feet, 5 inches tall,” McConnell said of his grandfather, who played on one of the better teams in the school’s history, graduating a year before his friends would go to the state tournament.

“I went to school right here,” McConnell, a 1973 Robinson graduate, said of Lincoln Elementary School. His father also played basketball for the Maroons, graduating in 1942, as did his older brother, Kent, who graduated in 1971.

Handmade posters supporting the team adorned both the elementary school and high school hallways, done by the students there hoping for another state title.

Thursday morning featured a high school-wide pep session with music in the halls and cheering students as this year’s team was ushered off to Peoria to prepare for tonight’s matchup with No. 1-ranked Chicago Hales Franciscan.

Across the street, Mendy’s Furniture store displayed a “Go Maroons” sign outside.

“No, I just try to support the kids when I can,” owner Kevin Mendenhall said when asked if he had children on the team. A 1979 Robinson graduate, he added, “I’d like to see one of our teams win the state,” noting that this year’s team can do it if they play “their game.”

And it’s a game the kids of Robinson have been playing for more than a century.

McConnell rattled off some of the many differences a member of the 1915 Maroons would notice if playing in 2010. From changes in fouls to dribbling rules, things look a little different from the stands than they did when the kids rode trains from town to town, mailing their schedules out on postcards for a penny apiece, delivered by his great-grandfather’s horse-and-buggy on the area’s first rural mail route.

Siler’s office contains a trophy case full of his own sons’ basketball history, as he’s watched this group make its own changes over the years. Outside in the grass, a large banner supporting the Maroons is posted next to other signs of support.

“And I always say, it’s contagious,” he said.



Brian Boyce can be reached at 812-231-4253 or brian.boyce@tribstar.com

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