Six members of the greatest high school basketball team in state history returned to their old stomping grounds on Thursday in Dolton. Thornridge’s gym has a new floor, lights and bleachers, but retains essentially the same cozy feel it had during the Falcons’ incredible run in the early 1970’s.
Boyd Batts, Ernest Dunn, William Gatlin, James Loggins, Mark McClain and Greg Rose were each on hand to watch Thornridge retire their jersey numbers.
Current Thornridge senior Demetri Woods heard all about the team while growing up.
“Everyone says they were big-time back in the day, that they were the best team in the country,” Woods said.
Thornridge retired ten jerseys in total from the 1971 and 1972 teams that posted a 58-game winning streak and won consecutive state titles. The ceremony was also a recognition of the 50-year anniversary of the school’s integration, which led directly to the basketball success.
A majority of players on the 1971 and 1972 teams came from the small village of Phoenix. A group of just more than 100 students from Phoenix were bused over to Thornridge starting in 1967. They were the only black students in the school’s 4,000 plus enrollment.
According to District 205 President Bernadette Lawrence they endured years of conflict.
“The civil rights movement wasn’t just in Selma,” Lawrence said. “It was right here too.”
Thornridge alum Elder James Lashley, who helped organize the event and grew up with the basketball players, said he and Rose were the first two kids off of the bus.
“It was obvious that we weren’t welcome,” Lashley said.
The current Thornridge and Thornton teams sat and watched the ceremony and then took pictures with the players.
“I had never heard about [the integration] before,” Thornridge senior Jaylen Clark said. “It was inspirational. It brought back what we really are. And they still have so much pride in Thornridge, it made me wear my jersey with more heart.”
The current Thornridge squad has just six players. They were blitzed 87-49 by No. 19 Thornton.
“It’s been a tough year for us,” Falcons senior Jaylen Clark said. “A lot of guys got kicked off the team and we just had to play through it.”
Clark led Thornridge (2-22, 0-12 Southwest Suburban Blue) with 18 points. Richard Adams scored 11 and Woods added 10.
The win wraps up the regular season for the Wildcats (20-5, 12-0).
“We are getting better,” Thornton coach Tai Streets said. “Hopefully this momentum carries over into the playoffs, they are starting to play. They did a great job today.”
Christian Anderson led the Wildcats with 24 points, he drained six three-pointers in the third quarter.
“If we can get that in a playoff game it would make us that much better,” Streets said. “[Thornton senior Alonzo] Verge was awesome finding him. If we get that we could be pretty tough.”
Verge had 15 points, nine rebounds, six assists and four steals.