State! State! State!” The crowd chanted with just a few seconds left in the boys’ basketball Super-Sectional game at Northern Illinois University. As the clock wound down, the students in the makeshift Red Zone chanted louder and louder. The energy from the Trojan fans was electric. The Timothy Christian Trojans were headed to State after a 40 year drought.
It was a near perfect capstone to a remarkable season. The Trojans went 28-5 winning the Conference title, Regionals, Sectionals and Super-Sectionals. But even as Trojan fans left Northern Illinois on Tuesday, March 10, the chatter on the news was growing louder and louder about COVID-19, a little known virus that seemed to be spreading across the United States. Wash your hands, don’t touch your face, socially distance, were some of the instructions blasted out on all news outlets.
At the time, canceling the IHSA State Basketball tournament didn’t even seem likely or even realistic.
The excitement of students, parents, and the Timothy community couldn’t be squelched by newscasters warning that a pandemic was looming. Fan buses were tentatively scheduled, tickets were sold, hotels in Peoria were booked.
But on Thursday, March 12, Coach Plaisier was told that while the State Tournament would go on, each team was limited to 60 fans. “It was a shocking blow,” Coach Plaisier admits. “The Timothy community has embraced this team. I had no doubt that we were going to have huge crowds down in Peoria. But the boys handled the news beautifully.”
The Trojans stayed focused. They spent that Thursday morning shooting around in the WAC. And whether or not they were playing in front of a packed stadium, or just family members, they had one goal in mind — they were coming home State Champions.
On Thursday afternoon, all the high school students packed the main hallway in the school and clapped and cheered while the Trojans proceeded out the school doors. The team boarded buses and headed down to Peoria. Rumors started circulating on social media that COVID-19 could shut things down.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28
Even still, the Trojans were back on the court in Peoria on Thursday afternoon. “The boys were lighting it up,” Coach Plaisier remembers. “They were as focused as I’ve ever seen them. They had one goal in mind. When we left the gym, we anticipated playing Friday night.”
At 6:00 pm, Coach Plaisier attended a scheduled meeting with all the coaches and administrators from the IHSA. But Plaisier knew something wasn’t right. Then the announcement came. The IHSA Boys State Basketball Tournament was canceled. There would be no State Champion.
By the time Coach Plaisier made it back to the hotel, the boys had heard the news on social media. “That was a hard time for a coach, there’s no coaches manual on how to tell your team that their season has ended prematurely,” Plaisier admitted. “There were lots of tears. Lots of hugging and we just kind of let that emotion ride out. I did my best to address the team and to let them know how special they were and that God’s plan is sometimes not what we understand. But it’s something that we have to trust.”
Turning to the Bible during times of trouble was not something new for the Trojans. Coach Plaisier had based the entire season on key verses such as Romans 8:28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.”
“We always strive to be great,” Plaisier says. “But you do it in accordance to God. We talked a lot about perseverance and persistence and the will to move forward in the face of adversity. So Hebrews 10:35-39 was a verse that we said a lot. “Do not throw away your confidence, it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere.’”
Athletics at Timothy have always been based on developing courageous leaders who compete with integrity. This team though, who never got the chance to finish their season, will leave a legacy of perseverance and trusting God. That legacy transcends any trophy in a trophy case.
Coach Plaisier sent his team a message the day they were supposed to be playing for a State Championship. In part he wrote:
We always discuss the legacy you would leave, in my mind it’s easy. 1 John 4 sums it up perfectly: “God is love, whoever lives in love, lives in God, and God in Him.” Your legacy is love of the purest kind and that is why you are State champs.
You have cemented your legacy in the record books, and in the hearts of so many fans who cherished watching you play. You are all destined for great things through God’s helping hand. You never lost your last game of basketball, and I am convinced that it would have been the same result if we had to play those last two games.”