By Kyle Daubs
Thanks to former Journal Gazette-Times Courier sports editor Brian Nielsen, many memories from the holiday tournament were kept alive.
Nielsen, who eventually was inducted into the IBCA Media Hall of Fame, attended nearly every holiday tournament from 1980 to 2010. The first holiday tournament began in 1975. The 16-team bracket stayed around for 32 years until low attendance and teams leaving forced the tournament to use pool play in 2009. In 2010, the last holiday tournament was run.
The tournament used to split games at Baker Gym and Eastern Illinois University’s Lantz Arena. After years of not making money and a lack of interest from the public, the Charleston brass decided to pull the plug. Still, the holiday tournament displayed great basketball talent from 1975 to 2010. Charleston won the tournament twice under the leadership of Steve Hutton in 1977 and 1978. CHS has only one tournament MVP – Jeff Petersen in 1984.
After reading an article by Nielsen in 2002, I agree that the best game ever played was in 1980 between Lawrenceville and Effingham. Lawrenceville had two of the best players in the state in Marty Simmons, now Eastern Illinois University’s basketball coach, and Doug Novsek. This game featured a battle between Novsek, who finished with 26 points, and a future NBA center in Effingham’s 7-foot 2-inch center Uwe Blab. Effingham won a close contested game, 51-49.
However, in 1981 and 1982, Lawrenceville won both tournament titles. Simmons shared tournament MVP honors with Novsek in 1981. Then, in 1982, Simmons won tournament MVP on route to a season in which he led Lawrenceville to their second straight IHSA state title. Simmons finished as the holiday tournament record holder in points scored (135) and career points (351). Simmons was named Illinois 1983 Mr. Basketball that season. Simmons used to hold the record for points scored in a game (45) until Donnell Bivens scored 48 points in a contest. Lawrenceville brought competitive teams during the late 1970s and 1980s. Led by coach Ron Felling, the Indians won four state titles during his 16-year run as head coach that featured a 358-77 career record.
In 1984, Petersen became the only CHS player to ever win tournament MVP. He did so by averaging over 20 points a game. In 1990, a cross-town rivalry brought one of the best athletes that Coles County ever saw in freshman Kevin Trimble. Trimble eventually signed a football and baseball scholarship at the University of Illinois. The freshman paired with the likes of Willie High to win the tournament for Mattoon. That same season, Charleston’s Derrick Landrus nearly broke Simmons’ points in a tournament by scoring 132 points. A questionable call in a 65-60 loss to Belleville Althoff in the semi-finals kept CHS out of the title game that could have featured a Mattoon-Charleston showdown.
In 2000, Jon Tipton helped Mount Zion win its first, and only, championship with a last-second shot in a 58-57 thriller. In 2002, Charleston nearly ended a tournament dry spell, but fell to Robinson 50-45, losing to the hot shooting of Nick Brooks, who eventually played at Butler. CHS made the title game again in 2003 but was blown past by Effingham, a game that didn’t even start until 10:10 p.m.
A stretch of tournament dominance followed that year, the main reason why some believe the tournament disbanded. Class 4A Edwardsville won five of the next six tournaments convincingly. Their only blemish was when Teutopolis won in 2006 thanks to 28 points from tournament MVP Jason Runde. Since ending the tournament in 2010, Charleston boys’ basketball teams have played at Taylorville and Effingham Holiday Tournaments.
Many fans might remember many of these players and teams, but below is a compilation of all tournament winners along with the tournament MVP. This also includes the top-10 players to ever play in the boys’ tournament.
Many solid basketball players played in the 36-year tournament history. After reading many articles, and many perspectives, the list of the top players to ever go through Charleston and play in the tournament goes as follows.
10. Rick Scott (Charleston) & Darnall Jones (Olney)-Scott finished all tournaments both years that Charleston won the tournament. He would have won MVP but finished runner-up in 1978 to Jones, who eventually finished his career with 1,565 points.
9. Will Triggs & Spencer Stewart (Edwardsville)-The two players helped lead Edwardsville to a stretch of tournament dominance. Steward continued his career at the University of Illinois-Chicago, while Triggs played at the University of Southern Illinois-Edwardsville.
8. Nick Brooks (Robinson)-Helped lead Robinson to back-to-back tournament championships, including a win over CHS in 2002. Brooks went on to play at the University of Butler.
7. Jeff Petersen (Charleston)-He was named tournament MVP and became a future IBCA Hall of Fame member. He would have likely been a Division I player if injuries didn’t hamper his career.
6. Neil Plank (Mount Zion)-After helping Mount Zion win, he enjoyed a collegiate career at the University of Wisconsin and Illinois State University.
5. Kyle Wente (St. Anthony) & Bob Zerrusen (Teutopolis)-Wente helped lead St. Anthony to their only tournament title and eventually became a two-time All-Ivy League player at Princeton University. Zerrusen led Teutopolis to an undefeated 1986 season that won a state title.
4. Derrick Landrus (Charleston)– He was three points away from breaking a basketball legend’s tournament points record. Plus, he was leading the state in points per game. Landrus went on to play at Eastern Illinois University.
3. Doug Novsek (Lawrenceville)-He was a two-time MVP in 1981 and 1982 and was a part of two state title teams. Known as a deadly outside shooter, fans today still remember his game. Novsek is now an assistant coach for Eastern Illinois University men’s basketball team.
2. Uwe Blab (Effingham)-Played four years at the University of Indiana under NCAA Hall of Fame coach Bobby Knight. He helped the team win a Big 10 title his senior year and make the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament. Blab was drafted with the 17th pick in the first round of the NBA draft, where he played for the Dallas Mavericks, Golden State Warriors, and San Antonio Spurs from 1985 to 1990.
1. Marty Simmons (Lawrenceville)-Simmons was nicknamed “Mule” for his ability to carry teams, including the 34-0 state champion team in 1982. Simmons eventually became Blab’s teammate at the University of Indiana. Simmons transferred to the University of Evansville, where he became the coach in 2007 and amassed 282 victories to 2018. He is now the head coach of the men’s basketball team at Eastern Illinois University.
Charleston Boys Holiday Tournament Champions & MVPs (1975-2010)
|Year||Winner||MVP (Same School as Winner unless denoted)|
|1975||Chicago St. Ignatius||Jeff Carter|
|1976||Chicago St. Ignatius||Curtis Evans|
|1977||Charleston||Mark Fitt (Mattoon)|
|1978||Charleston||Darnall Jones (Olney)|
|1979||Lawrenceville||Warren Wendling (Olney)|
|1980||Effingham||Doug Novsek & Uwe Blab (Effingham)|
|1981||Lawrenceville||Marty Simmons & Doug Novsek|
|1984||Murray, Kentucky||Jeff Petersen (Charleston)|
|1986||Belleville Althoff||Kevin Schwarz|
|1987||Belleville Althoff||Corey Cox|
|1988||Belleville Althoff||B.C. Penny|
|1989||Effingham||Brian Foster (Fairfield)|
|1991||Jerseyville||Kiley Gwaltney (Fairfield)|
|1992||Belleville Althoff||Mike Rodgers (Olney)|
|1993||Teutopolis||Matt Fitzsimmons (Belleville Althoff)|
|1998||Effingham St. Anthony||Kyle Wente|
|2000||Mount Zion||Neil Plank|