Brendan Quealy: A love letter to high school hoops

Mar. 1—'Hoosiers" was one of those movies that just always seemed to be on during the weekends in the Quealy household when I was growing up.

If the 1986 classic was airing on some channel we had and my dad stumbled across it, there was little to no doubt that he'd put the clicker down and watch the dramatic telling of the Hickory Huskers with Gene Hackman, Dennis Hopper, Barbara Hershey and a collection of actors remembered forever for their iconic roles as Hickory basketball players.

Far more often than not, I'd join my dad and rewatch Jimmy Chitwood and Ollie and Buddy Walker, Strap, Merle, Flatch and the Butcher brothers win an Indiana state championship with that music score that will be seared into my brain until the end of my time here on Earth.

Seven years ago, my dad and I got the chance to travel down to Knightstown, Indiana, and watch one of my favorite high school teams from Central Illinois — the Rantoul Eagles — battle one of their fiercest rivals in the very same gymnasium that was home to the Hickory Huskers during the filming of arguably the greatest sports movie of all-time.

We sat high in the stands, watching from those painted-gray wooden benches and just soaking it all.

That was a special day.

Not just being at the game, but being with my dad and bonding over something we both loved — something that connected us when I was a child and that now strengthened our relationship as adults. Even the drive down to Knightstown was special as we just chatted about everything and nothing while it meant the world to me and to him.

Counting the trip back from Traverse City to my hometown of Tinley Park and then to Knightstown to watch a high school basketball game, I logged close to 550 miles on my 2014 Honda Civic — that same one that is still taking me from game to game working for the Record-Eagle.

It's the same car I parked on the grass at Traverse City Christian High School on Monday when I showed up to cover the Sabres' game against Frankfort in the Division 4 boys basketball district quarterfinals and the same one I drove to Kingsley on Thursday for the Stags's Division 2 district semi against visiting Sault Ste. Marie.

This time of the year is just special. Probably my favorite time of the year when it comes to covering sports.

That's not a slight against any of the other sports or teams we cover. There's just something about being in a packed gymnasium with hundreds upon hundreds of fans standing shoulder to shoulder in the bleachers and hanging on every shot, every rebound, every pass, every dribble as they cheer and will their team on with the price tag being tired lungs, a scratchy voice and sore legs.

Being around that energy, feeling the noise of a raucous and celebratory crowd rattle your eardrums, just experiencing the buzz that is contained within those four walls as we all watch 10 players run up and down the court trying to put a ball through a hoop.

Sounds simple, but sometimes the best things in life are just that simple.

I was fortunate enough to land that job in Rantoul over a decade ago that allowed me to have those experiences there and then lead me here to northern Michigan where I've continued to have those experiences on and off for the last seven-and-a-half years.

The run to East Lansing and the Breslin Center is one of the most exhilarating experiences for a basketball team. As reporters, we get to go along for that ride. We watch and document and chronicle the triumphs and tribulations, the wins and the losses, the jubilation and the heartbreak of those teams to provide that first draft of history day in and day out.

For some teams, that ride has already ended this season. For others, the roller coaster is still on that first ascent.

No matter what, we'll do our best to be there for as much as we can.