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1: GCMS football wins back-to-back state titles

With a 35-16 win in the 2018 IHSA Class 2A state championship game over Maroa-Forsyth, the Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley football claimed its second consecutive state title.

The Falcons were the first team to win back-to-back 2A state titles since Aledo did it in 2001 and 2002. They were the first team to go undefeated through two consecutive years since Decatur St. Teresa went 13-0 in 1974 and 1975.

GCMS’s 28-game winning streak would be extended to 31 before the Falcons lost to Fieldcrest in the fourth week of the 2019 season. According to the IHSA’s website, only 11 teams had longer winning streaks.

After GCMS went into halftime with a 21-16 lead over Maroa-Forsyth, the two teams went scoreless through the first 19 1/2 minutes of the second half until Austin Spiller returned an interception 17 yards for a GCMS touchdown that extended the Falcons’ lead to 28:16 with 4:27 left in the game. Layne Harden then recovered a fumble in the end zone for a touchdown on the ensuing kickoff.

Jared Trantina scored three rushing touchdowns while also running for a game-high 144 yards on 24 carries.

The Falcons won 38-32 over Maroa-Forsyth in the 2017 state title game.

While it was senior Mitch McNutt who carried the offense (32 carries for 139 yards) for the majority of the contest, the game-winning play came through the air. Junior Nathan Garard, who completed 3 of 8 passes in the game, as well as a pair of two-point conversions, connected with classmate Bryce Barnes for a 23-yard touchdown with 1:08 left in the game.

Only one day after winning the 2018 IHSA Class 2A state football championship, a handful of football players played their first game for GCMS’s basketball team for the 2018-19 season.

Since that GCMS Thanksgiving Tournament fifth-place game, which GCMS won 74-63 over LeRoy, the Falcons won 31 consecutive games en route to the school’s first appearance in the IHSA state tournament since Jack Cowgill led the Gibson City Greyhounds to the state tourney in 1980.

The Falcons would finish third at the state tournament.

Barnes would later become a walk-on for the University of Illinois football team while placekicker Ben Freehill is a walk-on at Oklahoma State University.

McNutt signed a letter of intent to walk on at the University of Illinois as well after the 2017 season, but would depart prior to the 2018 season and later join the University of Wisconsin-Platteville’s football, where he is reunited with Trantina.

Garard and Lane Short are on Eureka College’s football team while Spiller is on Illinois Wesleyan’s football team, Josh Bleich is on McKendree University’s football team and Hayden Workman is on Wisconsin-Whitewater’s team.

No. 2: A life remembered: Roy Roemer

Every game, every practice. Every team banquet, gathering and event. Roy Roemer attended them all.

Roemer, 67, a longtime Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley sports fan, died Thursday, Oct. 26, 2017, after a short battle with esophageal cancer.

More commonly known simply by his first name, Roemer spent countless hours watching GCMS athletes in all of their contests, encouraging the athletes throughout the game. He was well-known not just in Gibson City, but surrounding communities as well.

“I’ve been in Gibson City for 25 years and just found out his last name within the last few years,” said Susan Riley, GCMS High School math teacher. “Like Cher and Oprah, when you said ‘Roy’, everybody knew who you were talking about.”

Roemer spent his early years in the Chicago suburb of Tinley Park where his father was a farmer. In 1970, Wesley and Marion Roemer moved their family to ground they had purchased southeast of Elliott, near Pontoppidan Lutheran Church.

Around that time, Roemer began attending Gibson City High School athletic events. He remembered watching the 1971-72 Greyhound boys’ basketball team, led by Dennis Graff, which played in the state tournament at the Assembly Hall.

From the time he arrived in Gibson City until his diagnosis in January, Roemer attended over 3,600 sporting events, including all of the football and boys’ basketball games. Sporting an Illini cap, Falcon shirt, khaki pants and black Velcro shoes, he was a fixture at GCMS games, supporting every athlete—win or lose.

As his health continued to worsen, Roemer was unable to attend many games, though he kept up with the football contests on the radio. Several GCMS staff members drove him in a golf cart to the football games this past month, letting him enjoy the undefeated football team in its glory.

The football team learned at its weekly dinner that Roemer wasn’t likely to make it through the night. In a tribute to the program’s biggest supporter, they walked to the window of his apartment and sang the school fight song.

Roemer passed away shortly afterwards.

During the team’s first-round playoff game against Eastland/Pearl City, fans were encouraged to wear white in honor of Roy. The football players wore sport special stickers on their helmets.

Before the GCMS football team’s first-round playoff game against Eastland-Pearl City, Allen told his players they will have an unseen advantage, with Roy on their side.

At GCMS High School’s Fall Sports Awards Night held Wednesday, Dec. 13, Vera Bunting, an LPN at Gibson Area Hospital who was the power of attorney for health care for Roemer, spoke to the football team.

She referred to the kids as being “very respectful and caring” and said, “I know (Roy) was, and still is, smiling” at the GCMS football team’s run to the state championship.

Last April, the ballpark at West Park in Gibson City was renamed Roy Roemer Field.

3: PBL football back to prominence

Following the resignation of former coach Greg Wood last spring after he led PBL to a 7-20 record in three seasons, the school board approved the hiring of Jeff Graham in April 2011. It marked his second go-round as PBL’s head man, as he also led the way from 2001-’05 before resigning to take on increased administrative duties.

After a 2-7 campaign and back-to-back 4-5 seasons in 2012 and 2013, Graham led PBL to a 5-4 record in 2014, and the Panthers’ first playoff appearance since 2006.

In 2015, PBL won the Sangamon Valley Conference title and reached the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 1998 via a win at home in the first round over Williamsville.

From there, Graham’s Panthers went to the playoffs in each of the next two seasons as well, and would reach the second round in 2018, before Graham resigned in the spring of 2019.

PBL hired Josh Pritchard in May 2019. Under Pritchard, the Panthers went 9-3 as they reached the state quarterfinals for the first time since 1998.

4: IHSA rules Nuss must sit

Paxton-Buckley-Loda senior Eddie Nuss was relegated to wearing nothing more than just jeans to the football team’s season opener at Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley in late August after the Illinois High School Association denied a waiver that would have allowed Nuss to play in the first game despite not having participated in the mandated 12 practices prior to the first contest. The reason Nuss hadn’t had enough practices was because he was finishing up military basic training in Georgia.

When the Record wrote about the story, it quickly gained national attention. spotlighted it on its front page, and followed up with a story as well. Outrage was the prevailing emotion shared with the IHSA, but it had no effect. Nuss sat out, and PBL lost. The online story was the Record’s most viewed of the year.

5: Dutch dynasty

When the Buckley Dutchmasters rallied from a one-game deficit to defeat the Royal Giants in the 2012 Eastern Illinois Baseball League Tournament championship series, they won their first tourney title since 2015.

Their ensuing title drought would not last nearly as long, as Buckley won again in 2015 via a two-game sweep over the Giants.

The Dutchmasters then won two more EI League Tournament titles in 2016 and 2017 via two-game sweeps over Champaign Dream.

After a one-year absence, Buckley won again in 2019 via a two-game sweep over the Giants.

Buckley has more postseason titles (16) than any other team in the EI League.

6: GCMS girls track places second at state

Sydni Meunier, who would run for the Notre Dame women’s cross country and track and field squads, won five IHSA Class 1A state championships.

After winning the state title in the 800- and 1,600-meter run in 2010-11, Meunier repeated the feat in 2011-12 while also joining forces with LaToya Baillie, Angel Gaesser and Jordyn Nettleton to win the state title in the 4x400 relay.

Gaesser also finished second in the 800-meter run and seventh in triple jump while also helping Nettleton, Lauren Nagle and Jess Meyer finish ninth in the 4x100 relay in the 2012 state meet. Nettleton also finished sixth in the 300-meter hurdles and eighth in the 100-meter hurdles.

As a team, GCMS finished second in the 2012 state meet with a score of 48 while Cenral A&M (59) finished first and St. Joseph-Ogden (46) placed third.

7: Waterstradt takes gold

At the World Age Group Championships in Birmingham, England, in 2011, Paxton-Buckley-Loda sophomore gymnast Garret Waterstradt took won the gold medal in the double-mini of the 15- and-16-year-old age division while representing the United States. His performance at the world competition, which included strong showings in two other events as well, solidified himself as one of the top gymnasts in the world for his age.

He received the best national ranking in the 2012 Loule World Cup in Portugal in tumbling. His score of 64.3 ranked fifth in the world for Senior-Elite level tumblers and first among American Senior Elite tumblers.

Waterstradt, a Senior Elite USA Gymnastics tumbler and double-mini trampolinist, was in the 2013 World Trampoline and Tumbling Championships competition in Sophia, Bulgaria, Nov. 7-11. He also competed in Denmark in 2015, representing the United States Trampoline and Tumbling Championships team in the tumbling and double-mini trampoline events at the 2015 World Tumbling and Trampoline Championships.

8: Pool problems force swim team to cancel seasons

Amid problems with the Paxton Park District’s pool main drain not meeting new state regulations, the Paxton Aquatic Wildcats, a local swim team that was comprised of more than 100 competitors, had to cancel their season when the pool was closed for the summer of 2011.

The swim team tried various means to keep its season alive, including contacting Lake Iroquois and Onarga about using their facilities. But each time, talks fell through, and in the end, there was no other choice but to call the season off.

“I feel terrible for every one of those kids,” coach Alex Goudy said.

In better news, the Save Our Pool committee raised more than $57,000 to fund the repair of the park district pool, so the pool would be available the following summer.

Since 2011, the Wildcats had to cancel only one season due to pool closure, and that was in 2017 as the pool at Coady Park was closed before last Wednesday due to delays in the repair of the pool liner. With no pool available for hosting meets or practices, the Wildcats did not participate in any meets that summer.

9: PBL cheerleaders place sixth at state

The Paxton-Buckley-Loda cheerleading squad finished sixth at the IHSA state competition in 2013.

10: Happy retirement

The Paxton-Buckley-Loda school board voted unanimously to hire Brock Niebuhr as athletic director at PBL High School during a special board meeting on April 26, 2017.

Effective July 1, 2017, Niebuhr replaced longtime AD John Overstreet, who retired after serving as the school’s athletic director since 1999.

John Overstreet received some accolades during his time as athletic director.

In 2012, at a ceremony in Fargo, North Dakota, Overstreet was honored by the National High School Athletic Coaches Association for his quality work in the past year and his career as a whole. He was one of the eight finalists from across the country who was up for the national athletic director of the year award handed out by the NHSACA.

In 2011, he won Illinois Athletic Directors Association Class A athletic director of the year. He was nominated for the award in 2010 as well.

Overstreet also served as the Sangamon Valley Conference’s secretary since 1997.

Overstreet was hired for a teaching position in 1983 by Charlie Wood, who served as the school district’s superintendent when Overstreet was still in high school and kept that position until the early 1990’s.

While teaching at the PBL Junior High School building -- located at what is now PBL Eastlawn Elementary School -- for 11 years, Overstreet coached junior high boys basketball during nine of those years. He also started a 29-year run as the high school boys’ track and field team.   

In his final year as the head track and field coach, the team won what was believed to be the program’s first ever sectional title in 2012. The Panthers tied for first with Tri-Valley with 84 points apiece.

Overstreet also served as a coach for football team for 12 years — and for a 12-year run that ended in 2012, coached boys’ and girls’ high school cross country.

Two of Overstreet’s boys cross country teams — in 2006 and 2007 — that qualified for the IHSA’s state meet.

Niebuhr previously served as an assistant football coach and volunteer baseball coach at PBL. He landed at PBL in 2011, after being hired as a P.E. teacher at the high school.

In June, PBL approved Brock Niebuhr of another job previously held by a retiree. He was hired as the high school’s head baseball coach.

Niebuhr succeeds a 22-year run in which Pat Prina and Rick Johnson led the Panthers to a combined 453 wins. Johnson’s PBL squads won a IHSA Class 2A regional championship in 2016 and last spring.

Johnson arrived at PBL as both a junior high science teacher and basketball coach, as well as an assistant baseball coach under Pat Prina, in 1995. In that first year,  the PBL High School baseball team went 32-5, losing 2-1 in the sectional championship to eventual state-tournament qualifier Normal University High School.

After Prina retired in 2006, Johnson applied to his position as junior high physical education teacher as well as head coach of the PBL Junior High and High School baseball teams.

Under Johnson, the PBL Junior High baseball team posted a record of 157-58 since 2006. From 2007-16, the high school team went 204-110, with the 2007 season being the only one in which the Panthers finished under .500.

In Johnson’s time as a coach with the PBL High School baseball program, including his 11 years as an assistant under Prina, the Panthers won 453 games.

In his final year as the PBL Junior High School coach, his team won a 2016 regional championship. The following spring, his high school Panthers went 29-4, winning their third consecutive Sangamon Valley Conference championship and second straight regional title.

Niebuhr served as a volunteer assistant for the high school baseball team for what he estimated to be four years. He also has spent more than a decade as a member of the Eastern Illinois Baseball League’s Buckley Dutchmasters.

With Niebuhr as the team’s player/coach, the Dutchmasters won EI League Tournament titles in 2012, 2015, 2016 and 2017.