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Jeff Lampe

Jeff Lampe has been outdoor writer at the Journal Star in Peoria for 12 duck seasons. He lives in Elmwood with his wife Monica, sons Henry, Victor and Walter, and Llewellin setter Hawkeye. A native of Buffalo, N.Y., he is an avid fan of the Bills and still has mental scars from four consecutive Super Bowl losses. Outside of hunting and fishing, Lampe's main passion in Illinois was Class A boys basketball (which sadly no longer exists). Former publisher of the Class A Weekly newsletter, Lampe is a co-author of "100 Years of Madness" and "Classical Madness," both books focusing on prep basketball in Illinois.

Illinois Outdoors


A Web log by Jeff Lampe of the Journal Star

Saying goodbye to Class A

March 07, 2008 at 12:31 PM

So I was riding a Wave of Mutilation into work today on Interstate 74, Pixies music blaring and I still couldn’t shake the blues.

Guess I’m depressed. I didn’t even count hawks today. It’s tournament time and instead of turning south off I-74 I went north. I passed that big blinking sign that welcomes everybody to March Madness and cringed. I went north even though all the memories keep flooding back. All those trips to T-Town. That unbelievable run by Findlay, then Shelbyville, then Warsaw, then Nauvoo-Colusa and all the others. Ed Butkovich’s voice. Staunton? Roger Jones shot from the corner to beat Nokomis. Jeff Dahl driving the Warsaw team bus up to the Pere Marquette and telling me not to write about it. Billy Garrett going crazy. Jac Ashton and that damn Indiana coat. All those talks with coaches. With Ken Crawford. With Gary London. With Dave Bennett. With Gary Shirley. Everybody. Long nights at Hoops and across the street rehashing the tournament, seeing championship medals in odd places, breaking down the action and laughing. What a fun run. I’ve lived in Illinois 19 years and for 18 of them I lived the March Madness experience as fully as possible.

Time was I used to get pumped up for the Class A tournament in a bunch of weird ways. For a few years I’d buy new clothes at Delbert’s in Arthur. That was back when Jimmy G and I were still publishing Class A Weekly and I made my wife hand out flyers at Carver Arena. For a few years I’d watch Hoosiers before the tourney to set the scene. A couple times I watched that PBS documentary about T-Town, “More than a Game.”

In recent years, I’ve watched fewer and fewer games prior to the tournament. But the approach of the tournament always gets me fired up. Making that first walk into Carver Arena on a Friday was always like that first bite of a favorite meal.

This year I just can’t do it. Silliness? Probably. I remember last year when Taylor Bell skipped the Class AA tournament for the first time in about 99 years, one of his co-workers said he was “being a big baby” by staying away. Taylor no doubt had his reasons. Me, I’m just a big baby. Four classes is not really a “tragedy” as I’ve said more than once. I should probably embrace the Class 1A tourney. It’s probably going to work out OK, at least until we split to six classes because the Burlington Centrals of the world still can’t win a title. Even so, somehow I can’t shake my anger that we’ll never again see Class A. Some people can roll with changes like that. Not me. Not yet.

Last Saturday morning I went to watch biddy basketball games at Findlay’s little gym because it would give my boys a chance to learn about the ultimate Class A story. They looked at the trophy in the hall of that little gym, now a middle school for Okaw Valley. They were somewhat impressed. But it was my brother-in-law, Matt, who understood. He had forgotten Findlay had just 96 kids in school when they won it all. Staring at a team picture filled with players, cheerleaders, ball boys, statisticians and others he said, “That’s practically half the school right there.” Yep. And they won state. Will a Class 1A or Class 2A title mean as much to the people who win them this year? Yes. But in a larger sense it’s not the same. Play is watered down. Travel has become a nightmare. Maybe that’s the price we have to pay so more kids can be winners. I hope life is as accommodating.

Enough about that. What’s done is done and I’m still sitting here typing about a tournament I should probably be seeing in person. St. Anne is one of my favorite stories. And Lewistown is a perfect Class A team. Why sit here? Silliness? Probably. Even so, the most moving short story I’ve ever heard is Drought from Barry Lopez’s “River Notes.” The story (with funky cello accompaniment) is about a guy who finds a fish in a drought-stricken river. He takes the fish from a stagnant pool in the river and moves it to deeper water. Then he tries to dance like a heron. Then it rains. All this sounds silly, I realize. But the story includes a line that says something like, “No gesture, no matter how small goes unnoticed.” Back in the day I would listen to that story late at night driving back from games. Loud music before the games to get pumped up. Quieter stuff afterwards to savor what I’d seen. And that one line from the story has always rung true for me. You have to be true to yourself. Even silly gestures can matter.

So here I sit, mired in a gesture that’s probably sillier than trying to dance like a heron. In the background hoops drama plays out on a 16-inch screen. Nice move by St. Anne. Would have been nice to see that in person. Still I can’t make myself go to Carver Arena. 

What I keep remembering is that sick-to-the-stomach feeling when a long-time girlfriend calls to tell you she “just wants to be friends.” One day life looks good. You’ve got a pretty girlfriend. The sun is shining. You feel cool. One phone call later you’ve got no girlfriend. The sun dims. Life looks bad. Sure you can still be friends with her, but it will never be the same. So you have to move on. If you’re lucky you find a new girlfriend quickly. But after an 18-year relationship it’s harder to make a clean break. There’s furniture and cats and pictures and more. Besides, she still looks good. In fact, in a heartbeat she looks even better than she did at the end of your relationship. She might even lose weight and she definitely puts on new clothes and does her hair up better. No matter what you tell your buddies, deep down you still miss her. It’s just that things have changed, things out of your control. Eventually you can see her again. But it takes some time before you’re ready for that. And while it might be better in the long run for all involved, there’s always still some doubt.

Craziness, all of this, I realize. Overly dramatic and silly. But therapeutic. Words and loud music have always helped me fend off insanity. And I feel better after typing all this. Not 100 percent yet, but better. Later today when the tournament hits full stride I’m going to go fry fish at the church, drink beer and probably still feel a little sorry for myself. Maybe one of these days I’ll be ready to watch four-class basketball. Not this year, though. The breakup is still too fresh.

Story and comments

Of ice, muskie and hoops

March 07, 2008 at 04:53 AM

Rambling through the outdoors wondering how many 10-pound bass will be caught this spring in Illinois.


With ice thawing, March Madness is seizing many cabin-crazed anglers. This is the prime month to catch big bass in area strip mines and next week looks like a good chance to wet a line. Then again, Al Hayden of Al’s Sporting Goods in Galesburg notes there’s still 15 inches of ice on Lake Storey. So scout your water before setting out. ... Muskie mania is already underway at Spring Lake, where anglers have been launching boats since Monday. Guide Dan Vinovich of Pekin said action is slower than usual after ice-out, in part because ice keeps reforming. But he has boated several fish, including a 40-incher. ... Speaking of muskie, Jeff Sacco of Peoria hauled a 40-incher through the ice at Banner Marsh last Saturday. The muskie hit while Sacco was testing depth with an orange weight on a bare treble hook. He landed the fish thanks to 65-pound test muskie line on his tip-ups. Look for a picture Sunday. But don’t count on ice-fishing Banner now — there’s open water in places that were locked tight just five days ago.


Trail users at Jubilee College State Park have news to cheer. The site has a new Bobcat T300, a shiny new brush-cutting mower and a blade. “We are really going to improve the trails this summer,” site manager Tom Hintz said. And don’t worry that hunters have chased off all of Jubilee’s deer. Site staffer Pat Hanley had 13 run in front of his truck this week. ... Gunsmith David Prater of Lewistown sent two notes that caught my eye. One was about turkeys gobbling on Wednesday, a sure sign of spring. The other was a reminder for hunters that now is a good time to get shotgun repairs done. Fall is not far away, either. ... Larry Dozard of still has a few fishing calendars for sale at Presley’s Outdoors in Bartonville. ... Management of the Illinois State Morel Mushroom Hunting Championship is changing hands, as founders Tom and Vicky Nauman of Magnolia have passed the torch to Tom Davis of Henry. “Vicky and I no longer have enough time to devote to the festival and do it properly,” Nauman said. But Davis still plans to hold the event May 2-4 at the Marshall-Putnam Fairgrounds in Henry.


There’s no change in status at Powerton Lake, where repairs to the discharge tube have kept boaters sidelined. Site manager Stan Weimer said he has no indication when boaters will be allowed back. Bank anglers can still fish the cooling lake, including most of the discharge canal. ... With Powerton off limits, some eager bass anglers have headed for southern cooling lakes like Newton, Coffeen and Sangchris. Visit every Thursday for a statewide fishing report that includes information on those lakes and many others. We’ll publish local fishing reports in the Journal Star starting March 21. ... If you get bored on March 19, some guy named Jeff Lampe is going to discuss “Fishing in Illinois” at the Pekin Public Library at 7 p.m. There will even be free samples. To register call (309) 347-7111, Ext. 2. ... Our Neighbor Ash sez the only way he’ll show at the library is if the free samples are a mixture of hops, barley and malt. ... Faster, faster: Mercury recently unveiled a 350 hp outboard motor to match the 350 put out last year by Yamaha.


Looking to sell a mounted deer head? Consider calling Jimmy John’s corporate offices in Champaign. Yep, the guy who came up with those great-tasting sandwiches also has a taste for big racks. ... Male red-winged blackbirds and turkey vultures are here in force, another sure sign of spring approaching. ... Parting shot: This is what newspaper folk call burying the lede. And it’s a bad idea. But hey, I’m out of sorts. For the past 18 years this weekend meant one thing to me: the Class A boys basketball state finals. This has never been a weekend for family outings or vacations or fishing trips. Even my wife understood Class A weekend was holy. No longer. Bring on the kid’s school carnival. I hope four-class basketball turns out to be a blessing. I hope the small-school passion keeps burning. I hope championship trophies remain as awe-inspiring as the one my boys ogled last Saturday in Findlay’s little gym (where the 1992 team picture includes about one-third of the 97 students then enrolled). Someday I even hope to see another small-school tournament. But it won’t be this one.

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