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Bureau County rallies around tragedy, turmoil in 2012

Editor’s note: The BCR takes a look at the Top 10 sports stories from 2012, a year marked with triumph, but once again also with much sadness.

1. It was with great anticipation the Hall Red Devils took the practice field Aug. 8 for the first time to kick off the 2012 football season. Minutes into the second practice session of the day, that excitement turned into tragedy for the Red Devils and the entire Hall High School community.

Daniel Lule, a junior lineman, collapsed during drills and later died at the hospital. An autopsy later revealed the 17 year old died of an enlarged heart.

Hall Superintendent Mike Struna said it was a sad day for Hall School and called Lule a “Red Devil through and through.”

The Lule family and the Red Devils did not share the loss alone. A community rally was held for the family with the Hall football team holding a team walk to the Lule house, joined by the neighboring LaSalle-Peru football team in a share of good faith.

The Red Devils honored their fallen teammate by warming up to the shape of a ‘D” and “L” at the Red and White Scrimmage and wore a “DL” patch on their jerseys and the number 62 on the back of their helmets throughout the season.

2. Saving the boat races

For decades, the APBA PRO National Boat Races have been a great source of pride for the DePue Men’s Club and the community of DePue. At no time has that pride been displayed more than 2012.

A summer long drought brought drastically low waters to Lake DePue, threatening to cancel the annual end of July town festivity. Aaahhh ... but not even Mother Nature could fool DePue.

The community rallied together, installing a temporary dam at the mouth of Lake DePue, and water was pumped from the Illinois River into the lake around the clock to reach the necessary level to ensure safe racing conditions, The races went on and DePue native Paul Bosnich III won the 125cc Runabout national championship.

3. Renewed rivalry

The Hall Red Devils and neighboring St. Bede Bruins met on the gridiron for the first time in 20 years, a reunion highly anticipated in and around Spring Valley. The series was discontinued after 1992 when the rivalry became a little too intense off the field.

The reunion game appropriately came with a blue moon shining above Richard Nesti Stadium in Spring Valley, where the visiting Bruins shined most in a 20-6 victory.

“I came to a lot of these games, when I was in grade school. It was definitely a lot of fun to play here,” said St. Bede running back Bobby Morrow of Ladd, who rushed for 80 yards and a touchdown.

The Bruins held the Red Devils to 91 yards of offense, the Hall touchdown set up by a interception return in the third quarter.

4. His best shot

Bureau County had a banner track and field season with one state champion, Bureau Valley’s Adam Weidner and six other state medalists. Weidner won the Class A State shot put crown with a preliminary throw of 57 feet, 10 3/4 inches that stood up for first place. He becomes just the third state track and field champion in school history and only third state champion in shot put from Bureau County.

“I’m happy to bring it back to my school ... It’s just great to bring it back to Bureau County, too,” said Weidner, who also placed fourth in the discus.

He was joined on the medal stand by teammates Lindsey Hoffert (second, long jump), Derrick Johnson (third, 3200), Regan Weidner (third, 3200) and Logan Hoffert (seventh, 300 hurdles), Princeton’s James Dove (fifth, pole vault) and Hall’s Liz Mosbach (fifth, 400 and long jump).

The BV boys placed eighth as a team at state and were conference champions.

5. Three Rivers runs through it

The most discussed subject for three area high schools for the past few years has been centered around finding new conference homes with the crumbling of the North Central Illinois Conference. Princeton had been a member of the NCIC since 1939; Hall, a member of the NCIC from 1942-2011 before departing for the Tri-County; and St. Bede, a member of the NCIC only since 2010-11 when it left the Tri-County.

On Jan. 12, 2012, all three Bureau County schools found a new home in the Three Rivers Athletic Conference. They were among six schools, including Orion, Rockridge and Sherrard, Princeton’s partner in the West Central football conference, to be approved for membership by the Three Rivers beginning with the school year 2013-14.

PHS Superintendent Kirk Haring said, “It’s nice to have someone want you.”

St. Bede athletic director Tom McGunnigal called the Three Rivers a good, competitive conference for the Academy and a “win-win for our kids.”

St. Bede and newly joined Hall were already members of the football side of the Three Rivers, the Big Rivers.

6. Criss-crossing

BV’s Regan Weidner hoped to finish in the Top 15 in the IHSA State cross country meet, maybe Top 10 if she had a good day. What she did was run all way to a second-place finish in Class 1A. The BCR Runner of the Year also won the Rock Falls Regional and Bureau Valley and Princeton invitationals.
7. Revenge at regional

The Hall High School senior basketball players had never defeated their fellow members of the Class of 2012 from neighboring St. Bede Academy. That streak came to an end at Princeton’s Prouty Gymnasium in the Class 2A regional championship on Feb. 9.

The Lady Devils rallied from a 10-point deficit early in the third quarter to defeat their arch-rivals 52-48 to capture the regional championship, avenging an earlier season loss to St. Bede, as well as last year’s regional championship loss and all the other losses the years before.

“I’ve never beaten St. Bede my entire career. So this feels great,” said Hall senior guard Liz Mosbach. “I’m just so happy. When that buzzer went off, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, it finally happened,’”

Senior center Kelle Nett, who led Hall with 15 points, 23 rebounds, three assists and three blocked shots, said playing for the regional championship and losing to St. Bede before had the Lady Devils pumped up.

8. Elite Eight bound

The Princeton Tigresses won the Orion regional, defeating Rock Island Alleman 5-0 in the championship match. Next came the Chillicothe Sectional, where PHS steamrolled the field by defeating Champaign St. Thomas Moore 5-1 and Williamsville 3-0, to reach the Elite Eight for the third time in school history, and the first since 2007.

“Everything I’ve been teaching came together vs. Williamsville. I don’t believe we peaked. I believe we can build on that,” said PHS coach Ed Young.

At the Champaign Supersectional, the Tigresses fell 3-1 to former state champion Manteno, who would land its second state runner-up finish in three years.

9. 14-love

The Princeton Tigresses tennis team finished the 2012 fall season with perfection, fashioning a 14-0 record, defeating all comers along the way. It was the first undefeated team for longtime PHS coach Connie Lind, who said she would have never dreamed something like that would happen.

PHS shut out five teams during the season: St. Bede (9-0), Mendota (5-0), Streator (5-0), Kewanee (5-0) and St. Bede again in the NCIC meet (4-0).

10. Coaching carousel

Coaching changes were abundant in Bureau County schools, no more so than Bureau Valley where the Storm staff got a facelift. Tiffany Gonigam made the switch from varsity volleyball coach to varsity girls basketball with Abbi Bosnich taking over in volleyball; sophomore coach Jason Marquis was named the varsity boys basketball coach; and Jeff Ohlson became the new athletic director. Former big leaguer Danny Kolb was named as an assistant softball coach.

At Princeton, assistant coach Jesse Snyder was named as varsity football coach; Kevin Hieronymus as varsity girls basketball coach; and Jesse Brandt as athletic director. Snyder brought back former PHS head coach Randy Swinford as an assistant.

St. Bede made a reunion with former coach Dawn Williams in varsity volleyball, and Superintendent Mike Struna wore a new hat as varsity girls basketball coach at Hall. Dick Gross and Jim Barto also took on varsity girls basketball positions at LaMoille and DePue, respectively.

Honorable mention: Princeton Diamond Rays wins the Sandy Koufax state championship ... Princeton native Joe Ruklick is named to the Illinois High School Basketball Hall of Fame... former PHS basketball coach Don Sheffer passes away ... St. Bede alumni J.A. Happ is traded by the Houston Astros to the Toronto Blue Jays ... Princeton wins the NCIC golf championship, and Zoe Mead becomes third straight PHS runner to win NCIC cross country title ... Bureau Valley wins the Cardinal Classic at Erie, and St. Bede wins the Marseilles boys basketball tournaments.

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