Thanksgiving, QHS basketball go together like turkey, dressing

Quincy High Blue Devils Basketball
Quincy High Blue Devils Basketball(WGEM)
Published: Nov. 23, 2022 at 6:35 AM CST
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QUINCY (WGEM) There’s no proof that the Pilgrims and Indians kicked back together after a huge feast nearly 400 years ago by attending the Quincy High School Thanksgiving Basketball Tournament.

It just seems that way.

Playing on Thanksgiving evening is a tradition that’s been around Blue Devil Gym since 1971 -- not 1621 like the first feast -- as the event celebrates its 51st year (no event was held in 2020 because of pandemic restrictions) this weekend. Dixon, Miller Career Academy and Springfield Lanphier join the host school for two games Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.

The Quincy Thanksgiving Basketball Tournament was developed under Coach Sherrill Hanks and others who formed a committee and were instrumental in providing a holiday event for fans. From the 1956-57 season through the 1966-67 season, Quincy hosted a tournament prior to Christmas.

Then for three years from 1968-69 through 1970-71, Quincy, LaSalle-Peru, Pekin and Chicago DuSable played in the CICL Classic. Finally, Ottawa, Pekin and Champaign Central joined QHS for the first tournament at 30th and Maine.

Quincy High Hall of Famer (1988) Bob Spear recalls the excitement of the first event during the start of the 1971-72 season. Quincy was tourney champs, winning all three games by a total of seven points.

”I remember the first Thanksgiving tourney well as it was my first varsity experience,” recalled Spear, who lives in Coronado, Calif., after retiring as a doctor in pediatric anesthesia and pediatric critical care at Rady’s Children’s Hospital.”There is absolutely nothing in sports more exciting than playing in front of Quincy fans in the QHS gym and this new tourney provided us with the opportunity to play three games in three days. Little did we know that we’d end our season with three games in Champaign, finishing second to the great undefeated Thornridge team.”

Yes, a season that started with three victories in three days at the inaugural QHS Thanksgiving Tournament ended with three games in two days at the Assembly Hall as the Blue Devils finished as runner-up in the first Class AA state tournament falling 104-69 to Thornridge.

The 1972-73 season started with Spear being named tournament MVP and ended with the smooth senior being named captain of the Chicago Daily News All-State Team.

”That season was different in that we had had state tournament experience and expectations were super high for us,” said Spear, who went on to a distinguished collegiate career at Illinois Wesleyan University playing alongside future NBA stalwart Jack Sikma.”

“Again, getting to play a game three nights in a row in front of a gym packed with Blue Devil fans is so much fun. And playing for legendary Coach Hanks after watching his Blue Devil teams during my grade school years ... my dream came true.”

Spear said the entire atmosphere made the game day special.

”The players all loved the band, the best high school band in the state,” Spear said. “The smell of burnt popcorn, the sound of referees’ whistles and the band playing ‘Stand Up And Cheer.’ It’s all just a part of Thanksgiving in Quincy.”

While fewer and fewer teams are opting to play on Thanksgiving Day, the QHS event keeps on ticking thanks to the numerous sponsors and volunteers it takes to put on the tournament.

During the tournament’s first 50 years, the home team has compiled a record of 125-25, an 83.3 winning percentage. The Blue Devils have been crowned champions 35 times and have won 10 of the last 12 tournaments.

For those into numbers, QHS has hosted the Thanksgiving Tournament nearly 12.5 percent of the year since the first Thanksgiving 401 years ago.

Here’s what head coach Andy Douglas and assistant coach Tom Lepper -- who both played in the tournament -- and several players think about the tradition of playing Blue Devil basketball on Thanksgiving Day.

Douglas (1997-99): “Playing on Thanksgiving Day is all I know. It is something that I looked forward to as a player and now as a coach, the excitement is still strong. Hang out with family and friends, eat, take a nap, and head to Blue Devil Gymnasium. It’s one of my favorite holidays.”

Lepper (1989-92, 1991 MVP): “As a player and coach it has always been something we look forward to. My wife and kids love the atmosphere and the excitement of starting the year off at Thanksgiving. It also gives us a chance to be with other families before and after games to visit and share time together.”

Bradley Longcor III, sophomore guard: “Playing Blue Devil, basketball means a lot to me and my family, especially on Thanksgiving. We get to celebrate the ones we love and get to play the game we love. There is nothing more special than being able to do it with my team.”

Ralph Wires, junior, guard: “When Thanksgiving arrives you know it’s time to start up basketball season and be reunited with your brothers. It is a chance to show everybody what your team is truly about and show how hard everyone has been working together since the summer. It’s truly an honor to be able to play and be a part of the Blue Devil culture.”

Reid O’Brien, senior, guard: “It means a lot to play on Thanksgiving, especially when I’ve been going to the game since I was young. It’s just a great thing being able to play on Thanksgiving after watching all these years.”

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