49th Annual Thanksgiving Tournament
Thanksgiving in Quincy Means a Hoops Celebration at Blue Devil Gym
By Matt Schuckman Herald-Whig
Posted: Nov. 30, 2015 5:45 am
In the days leading up to the 45th annual QHS Thanksgiving Tournament and my 18th season covering the Quincy High School boys basketball team, I had two questions thrown at me.
One, who were the best teams I’ve seen come through Blue Devil Gym at Thanksgiving while covering the team?
And two, what makes this tournament so special?
The answer to the first question made me sift through my archives, but the best teams I saw came to mind quickly. The 2001 Centralia team led by tournament MVP Lance Marcum was quite salty. The Orphans finished third in the Class AA state tournament that winter. The 2000 Chicago Crane and 2008 Bartonville Limestone teams which won tournament titles in Quincy also stack up favorably high.
As for an answer to the second question, I turned to some of the Quincy High School greats from years past to help explain what this tournament means to those who grew up in Quincy, who longed to be a Blue Devil, who understand the commitment it takes to be a part of the program and who have experienced the thrill of running out of the locker room and into Blue Devil Gym on Thanksgiving night.
These are their words and no one could say it any better.
Michael Payne, Class of 1981
“I think what made playing in the tournament so special to me is the tradition. I remember being very young listening to the games on the radio. With the Blue Devil teams in the early to mid ’70s being so good with Coach Hanks, there were standing room-only crowds. Then when Coach Leggett came to town the style of play changed to a pressing, up-tempo style which suited our size and speed and athleticism. Every kid who played basketball dreamed of suiting up for the Blue Devils and playing on that court.
“The Thanksgiving Tournament starts the season every year. It is one of the best holiday tournaments in the state. It means everything to a player to represent our city and to win that tournament. I remember wanting to not only win it but wanting to have at least two or three of our teammates on the all-tourney team. I remember the toughest game of my career at Quincy being the championship game vs Chicago Phillips. What a way to start off such a memorable season.”
Bruce Douglas, Class of 1982
“Growing up in Quincy and attending the QHS Thanksgiving Tournament from the time I was a young boy made it a part of our family tradition. Two things happened every Thanksgiving. First, I went to my grandmother’s for a great turkey dinner, and secondly, we went to the QHS Thanksgiving Tournament to see the Devils win. The tournament took precedent over the dinner, so many times that the real meal didn’t come until after the first game on Thanksgiving day. I grew up watching all of the great teams, great players, great shots, great plays, great games, great wins, great fans, great coaches and of course nothing made it more special then watching the most special people in my life, my big brothers.
“Playing in the QHS Thanksgiving Tournament was a dream that was placed in my heart from the day I was born. There is nothing I look more forward to then playing in front of the Quincy fans screaming, the pre-game ritual with the Devil leading and nothing more fulfilling then defeating the greatest competition in the greatest tournament in the state of Illinois every year. The tournament was in a class all by itself.
“I have some of the greatest memories from all of my days of playing basketball from the QHS Thanksgiving tournament. The privilege of meeting the players from different teams, attending the pre-tournament banquets and most importantly winning the tournament along with the special awards in the greatest high School tradition and environment in the country is what made the QHS Thanksgiving Tournament something special. Anyone who participated or spectated was impacted for life, including myself. The QHS Thanksgiving Tournament will always be very special to me.
Jason Gay, Class of 1987
“Playing in the Thanksgiving Tournament is one of the best tournaments I have ever been apart of in QHS history. It was a privilege to play against some of the top teams in the state of Illinois. Chicago Leo, Chicago Julian and East St. Louis. This tournament prepared us for the competition that we were gonna face in the tough Western Big 6 Conference. Run Devils Run!!”
Kevin Bybee, Class of 1990
“The QHS Thanksgiving Tournament is special in many ways. The tournament was always the first games of the season and to me it represented what I had been working toward from the age of 9, which was to play varsity basketball and to be a Quincy Blue Devil. The tournament was the first glimpse of what our team was going to be like that season and always paired us immediately against very good competition. My senior year we played the #1 ranked team in the country, Chicago King, and had a shot at the buzzer to win the Thanksgiving tournament championship. Magical experiences and games like that seem to always happen during the Tournament. But more than anything, the tournament epitomized what QHS basketball is all about: pride in our school and city, hard work, tradition, a desire to win and the city coming together to show their support of every single player and coach. Anyone who has played in the QHS Thanksgiving Tournament will tell you that it is a very special experience, and one they will always remember.”
Tim Johnson, Class of 1990
“First of all, it’s an absolute privilege to be a part of it. My memories are deeply embedded in my mind. A packed house (an undeniable sixth man if you will), screaming children, the anticipation of a great season, faces in the crowd that you only recognize but they know everything about you, the pre-game dunks you could perform because Coach Leggett would lock the refs in their locker room, the devil bringing the crowd to a feverish pitch, and the smell of popcorn in the gym, then the first tip with a preset play and we’re up 2-0 and it’s on!
“Of course, my fondest memory is playing Chicago King. National Champs in 1990! Yes, we lost and could have won on a last second shot, but it was confirmation that we were good enough to make it to Champaign. I’ve played in state championships, a legion World Series, Division I conference championships, pro baseball, and nothing compares to the time I spent in Blue Devil Gym with my teammates, a great coach and a city oozing pride and bleeding blue!”
Todd Wemhoener, Class of 1990
“Thanksgiving in Quincy, Ill., consisted of spending time with your family, having some turkey and going to the QHS Thanksgiving Tournament. As a boy growing up in Quincy, it was exciting to imagine myself playing in the tournament someday. As a boy, I did not understand how special our community was by coming to support you and your team Thanksgiving night and throughout the weekend. As a player, I would wake up the morning of Thanksgiving realizing that I just invested a month worth of Dirty 30s and other drills to prepare myself for Thanksgiving night. As a player, knowing that I am going to walk out of that tunnel to a community that sacrificed some family time to pack the house. Yes, the gym was packed.
“Quincy basketball is summed up in one word in my opinion and that word is tradition. Everything about Quincy High School basketball bleeds that word. The Thanksgiving Tournament is a Quincy Basketball tradition and that tradition should not change. Every player, cheerleader, coach, media personnel and member of the community came and supported the tournament in their own way because of that tradition. I can only speak for myself, but as a kid growing up in Quincy and a former Blue Devil basketball player, I could not wait for Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving meant I got to go to the gym, the Blue Devil Gym.”
Kyle Cartmill, Class of 1995
“What made the Thanksgiving Tournament special to me was the history and tradition of the tournament. The Thanksgiving tourney was always an opportunity to start the season with some of the best competition you would see all year. The atmosphere was electric, the excitement for the new season was high and it was a great opportunity to see what our team was made of right out of the gate. The support from the Blue Devils fans and the way they made Blue Devil Gym the absolute best place that I have ever played at is something that I will always remember and hold dear.”
Jared Summers, Class of 2007
“All the teams coming here from different places, the atmosphere for the first tournament of the year, you get so hyped because of it. You’re ready for Blue Devil basketball to start and you finally get here and get things started. It makes it so exciting and something to look forward to because you play here in Blue Devil Gym for your first three games of the year.
“What makes it fun to be a Blue Devil basketball player is playing at home. You see the teams that come here who have never been here before and you watch their reaction and realize it pumps them up. Now that I don’t play and I watch the other teams’ reactions, it makes playing here so much better. The Blue Devil comes out, the music is playing and I still get the same chills I did when I was playing.”