Once They Were Giants

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In 1952, Hebron Illinois was nearly 100 years old located in the Midwest. The school's total enrollment was 98. The town had more cows than total population of people. I bet it was a charming town with only 4 small groceries, 2 restaurants, and 2 taverns. This town was totally unaffected by city life. This town looked more like Wisconsin than Illinois. This was the year of "claim to fame" from one basketball team colors green and white called the Green Giants. During the 1930's, 1940's, and 1950's Hebron was a basketball town.

Basketball came to Northern Illinois in the 1980's. The sport really began in 1927 with coach Lowery B. Crane, as the basketball coach for Hebron school. Coach Crane had went to college and graduated as a teacher. Hebron school wanted Mr. Crane to teach math or physics and to start coaching the junior varsity basketball team. The previous coach that coached the varsity team had just resigned, so lucky for Mr.

Crane he advanced right into varsity. The students called Coach Crane "red" for his striking red hair. In high school as Coach Crane attended he played soccer. In college he played basketball. When he attended the board of education the coach encouraged the board into putting hoop's at the high school. He also encouraged the town people to put up hoops in the town. Coach Crane had a motto- mens sana in corporne. It meant a sound body a sound mind. In 1935 Hebron won its first county title since 1924. In 1936 Hebron was able to be in the IHSA, meaning Illinois High School Association. In just a few years under Coach Crane directory Hebron's basketball program had risen to a new level, one on where the small town played on seemingly equal footing with the biggest and best schools. During 1939-1040 basketball team the much loved Coach Crane. The much loved coach had an opportunity to change his family's lives. He was offered a teaching position to teach psychics at Sean High School. You see during the summer he had just finished his master's degree. This high school was in Chicago. This was a better opportunity for his new family.

Ed Willet a new graduate out of Northwester University had taken over Coach Crane's job. Mr. Willet was born in Canton Ohio. He stood 6"6'. He had a good start the team already had 2 victories. This was the school year of 1939-1940; he also had a bunch of tall guys. The average height from 6'4" to 5'11". Using the height to good advantage Hebron tore through the competition at the start of the seasons, winning 20 games before loosing to Crystal Lake. The last game at the end of the season was to Rockford and they won. Over 400 citizens were at the Rockford game. When they came back they were all so excited and happy they built a bonfire in the middle of the street. Hebron High School; was going to the state championship games! These boys were all farm boys and after school they had to go home and do chores. This team had 2 really good players; they were Judon and Kjellstrom (last names), went home and shot basketballs after practice, noon, even in the early mornings. During their 1st chance at state they lost. Although they lost and were disappointed they came home with a hero's welcome. After the 1940 state championship session and even with the loss the team became almost famous even though it was Hebron. The team was even mentioned in the Elgin Courrier News. The Green Giants were now in print. A boy that coach Crane had had an eye on and now Coach Willet was really impressed with this player. His name was Howie Johnson.

Howie Johnson was a great athlete. He loved baseball and basketball, and was very good at both. During one of the season games Howie was hit with some staples that some ignorant boys were shooting at the players. Howie was hit in the eyes. His family did not have enough money for the specialist so the high school and the town had banned together and raised the money to have his eyes fixed. His left eye was hurt the worst; the special said his wounds were not caused by staples but by chicken wire. Howie's job at home was to take care of the chickens. The specialist also said this injury could cause blindness. Howie was named to the 1st all State Basketball Team by the Champaign Gazette News. At the end of the school year Howie accepted a scholarship to the University of Illinois.

By the fall of 1943, America was involved in the World War II. During the war things were left stagnant for the school's basketball team. In 1945 Howie was almost sent to war. Before Howie left his father 51years old had died from a massive heart attack. Howie also started to develop blindness in his left eye, but he still could pitch a perfect baseball.

In a town close to Hebron, but still in Illinois were the Ahrens The boys were Tom and Russ, and they loved baseball. They grew up to be semi- pro baseball players. In 1948 Russ was married and had 2 children. Russ Ahrens located a job in Hebron, Illinois, and became the new basketball coach. Hebron was a good match for Russ. Ahearn's as they called him became the principal and the athletic director. Ahearn's was the only to coach for the basketball team. Mr. Ahearn's was a coach that only liked to win. During the next couple of years the local town boys were preparing to become basketball players and Mr. Ahreans was preparing to have a season to win as state champions. When the team started the coach gave some very strict rules. He had the boys follow a very strict diet and exercise. Also, Howie Johnson would come and be the assistant coach while his season had ended with the White Sox.

Mr. Ahearn's had a stricter regime than most coaches back in the day. The boys were not allowed to date except on Saturday nights, and they always had games on Saturday nights. Dr. Leschuck saw that the boys were taking the proper vitamins and had the right amount of proper sleep. The uniforms were green and white, and coach Ahearn's made sure they were perfect, and even the sneakers. He was all business and wanted perfection to start the year right. This was all part of a plan to put Hebron back on the map again and to win the 1950-1951 season state champ's. That season did turn out good but they did loose. As it turned out they did have a good season.

The book goes on to talk about some of the boys and their great capabilities as player for the 1951-1952 season. The boys are Don Wilbrandt, Phil and Paul Judson, and Bill Schultz. These boys were dedicated and also very good players. They were seniors this year and also wanted to play hard and win. Paul and Phil were twins and also the younger brothers of Howie Judson. This team made it to the state championship! This time it was all so different. The boys stayed in hotels in the Champaign-Urbana area where the State champion ship games were always played. As the boys were demolishing all of the other teams they signed autograph's and were on television. The ticket sales were $1.50 and could be sold for over $20. This was all very exciting and hard on the boys to focus on the game. During the playoffs the sport writer's were astonished and excited by the small school success.

This year Coach Ahearn's told the boys the facts as they stood. They had good things that would happen from this tournament. One was that they were going to be the first high school in Illinois to play on television, also they could be the 1st team in the history of basketball to win district, regional, and regional sectional.

The book is remains as to describe all of the teams that were played and the scores. I read the book anyway, and the scores. I was impressed, but do not want to include all of these stats. The team did win all. The Hebron people went to the games, and the town was like a ghost town. The final game was with a team named Quincy, and they had a run of winning the state games for many years, but not this season. The team and coaches came back as heroes. Many of the counties around Hebron like Woodstock, and Harvard had parades with the players in the parades. This was big! The Green Giants had won all. The boys went on to play semi-professional sports. And they all lived happily ever after.