Scales Mound defies the odds

Andy Colbert

In a story nobody saw coming, it was Scales Mound making it to the championship game of the IHSA boys 1A basketball tourney. This is after finishing third in 2022 with a team of a lifetime.

I do recall a conversation with coach Eric Kudronowicz last year and he casually mentioned to me that even though Scales Mound would graduate its starting five, it would still be pretty decent in the upcoming year. He spoke of how good the jayvee team had been lately, but even he had to be surprised by what transpired this season.

How could anything top last year’s success for the tiny school? That last time anything like this happened was in 1986 when Ohio, with a nearly identical enrollment to Scales Mound at 70 students, also made it to the championship game.

Ohio’s achievement was even more amazing considering the state was still in a two-class system and they were competed against schools as large as 700-plus enrollment.

Waterloo Gibault, who beat Scales Mound in the championship, gave coach Dennis Rueter his first title after 42 years at the school. That’s almost as big of a story as if Scales Mound would have won.

Rueter’s 793 wins ranks eighth all-time in the Illinois, with Gene Pingatore of Westchester holding the record of 1,035. Like Rueter, Pingatore did it all at the same school, which is now closed but did produce the incomparable Isiah Thomas.

Waterloo Gibault played in one other state title game, leading Rock Falls by 11 points midway through the fourth quarter, but losing 45-43 on a last-second shot. It was in 1999 and it was still a two-class system with the Rockets having double the enrollment.

One of the stars for Rock Falls was Jedidiah Johnson, who has freshman and sophomore boys on Oregon’s varsity team.

The title by Rock Falls was the only area small-school boys state title in basketball in the over 100-year history of the tournament. From 2003-2005, Mt. Carroll and Winnebago came close.

Probably the best small-school squad ever from this part of the state was Rock Falls in 1958. Led by great all-around athlete Ken Siebel and Gary Kolb, who would play major league baseball, the Rockets lost 70-64 to Chicago Marshall in the championship game when there was only one class.

The best game of this year’s state tournament was Metamora’s overtime win over Chicago Simeon in Class 3A. Isn’t Metamora a football school and what business did these country kids have in beating a traditionally-strong program that produces NBA talent?

Metamora was no fluke. Last year, they finished second, falling in double overtime. It goes to show that building up a program is possible anywhere in this state.

Scales Mound and Metamora are two examples of this and also full of players that are as fundamentally sound as they come in high school. Instead of flash and glitter, it was a joy to watch basketball as it was meant to be played.

Crowds at the State Farm Center in Champaign were down for 1A and 2A, but Metamora and Moline brought huge fan bases for 3A and 4A.   

The best atmosphere for any tournament game was not at Champaign, but at Ottawa, site of a super-sectional between Metamora and Aurora Marmion. 

Held in iconic Kingman Gymnasium in front of a sellout crowd, it was reminiscent of times long ago when the original March Madness (as trademarked by the IHSA) ruled the sports scene in Illinois.

As a statistician for the Rochelle basketball team in 1973, I had a prime seat on the bench for a game at Kingman between the Hubs and Ottawa. I don’t remember much about the game, but overwhelmed by the environment of a 2,400-seat arena that was built in the 1930s.

A few years ago, a statewide Twitter poll selected this gym as best in Illinois, ahead of places like Moline’s Wharton Fieldhouse and Collinsville’s gym. Historically and architecturally, our state has some wonderful old gymnasiums.

Sterling’s Musgrove Fieldhouse, which made it to the round of eight in the poll, hosted the 2A boys super-sectional.  Having these events as high-school gyms instead of college campuses make more sense, not just in terms of atmosphere, but also in cost to rent.

Andy Colbert is a longtime Ogle County resident with years of experience covering sports and more for multiple area publications.