Holy Trinity wins state

MONTICELLO — In terms of talent and scoring points, the two teams in last Thursday’s Illinois Elementary School Association Class 2A eighth-grade boys’ basketball state championship were about evenly matched.

The game at Monticello Middle School was a nail-biter for fans, with the Bloomington Holy Trinity Saints winning in overtime, defeating the Champaign St. Matthew Raiders by just one point, 41-40.

But if you took the measure of their sportsmanship and the size of their hearts, it would be a toss-up as well.

During post-season games, the Saints wore red and white laces in their athletic shoes to show support for their beloved head coach, Mr. Joe Neitz, who was diagnosed with throat cancer in January.

“He was diagnosed the night of our Sangamon Valley Conference semifinal game,” recalled Holy Trinity’s assistant coach John Horton. “He was unable to go to the game that night.”

The next time Coach Neitz came to practice, he found the team wearing red and white shoelaces. “A lot of them even went so far as to put his initials on their sneakers and socks,” said Mr. Horton.

He continued, “He saw the initials first and didn’t see the shoelaces until they pointed them out. He said, ‘What’s up with that?’ They said, ‘It’s for you, coach.'”

The Saints wore the red and white laces for the last eight games of post-season play.

When the Raiders found out what the Saints were doing for Coach Neitz, they decided to change their shoelaces as well — though they wore pink laces, due to a misunderstanding.

Still, Coach Neitz and his team appreciated the gesture. The Raiders also signed a card for him.

“It makes you realize there are things more important than a game,” said Raiders head coach Mike Carroll — even a state title game.

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