Scales Mound's Hoosiers-like run: A 'community-wide' success

Mar. 11—CHAMPAIGN — One play sums up the Scales Mound Hornets basketball experience perfectly.

Senior guard Jacob Duerr went after a loose ball. Sensing a save, fellow senior Charlie Wiegel ran to the opposite basket, shouting his name. In one motion, Duerr grabbed the ball and flung it perfectly to Wiegel for a layup.

"We're just one big family," Wiegel said of his team. "We're all here for each other."

The two senior starters for the Hornets have spent nearly all their lives playing sports together; Duerr is the school's quarterback, Wiegel his wide receiver. And now they're co-captains of the most successful basketball team their tiny town has ever produced.

Scales Mound, a farming village of 430 people with a high school class of 68, has grown a boys' basketball team competing for the Class 1A IHSA state championship. Rest assured, Hornet fans will be on their feet in a sea of home-color green.

"In some people's eyes, it's amazing. In our eyes, this is what we do," head coach Eric Kudronowicz told his team in their last practice huddle of the season. "Think about that over the next 24 hours, who are you going to play for tomorrow?"

Could this be Illinois' very own "Hoosiers" story? The team welcomes the comparison.

"I told our coaches, someday they might make a film out of us getting back here twice," assistant coach Jeff Korte said. "A third-place game and then we come back and win it? That'd be crazy."

With a win today, Scales Mound would be the smallest school to claim a boys' basketball state championship in Illinois.

What's their secret sauce? For one, a rabid fan-base helps.

"We've had a lot of people come up to us and say, 'You're a town of 400 people, how do you have 1,000 fans here?'" said assistant coach Kevin Duerr, Jacob's dad. "To put it honest, if someone's graduated from Scales Mound, regardless of where they live or where their kids grow up, they're still a Scales Mound Hornets fan."

Many of this year's contributors spent last year as sparring partners for the first Hornets' squad to make a state finals. The team lost all five of its starters over the summer, but clearly didn't lose steam.

"This team is a group of kids that aren't the tallest, aren't the fastest, but our basketball IQ, I believe is off the charts," Duerr said. "And they just don't want to lose."

On the eve of the big game, players spent their off-day even-keeled as always, with a brief morning practice at Urbana High School and a pleasant shopping trip at Market Place Mall, where a few rode on the carousel.

For most players, families and visiting fans, it's the second time they've ever made the four-hour trip to Champaign-Urbana.

"You see the success in the court, but this is a community-wide success," Kudronowicz said. "You're seeing the fruits of the labor, because of all of the people that have worked with these kids."

Scales Mound's school building — the focal point of the village — is Pre-K-12, enrolling 260 kids total. Nearly half of its high-school age boys are on the basketball roster.

The boys' basketball and girls' volleyball teams are the only sports that Scales Mound doesn't "co-op" — or combine forces — with other schools in the area.

"We love the other sports as well, but when it's just the Scales Mound Hornets, a little bit of pride goes into that," Duerr said.

It's hard to leave town without the team coming up in conversation for Sheryl Herreau, mother of junior Thomas, the team's leading scorer at 16.6 points per game.

"It's what you talk about when you meet at the store, it's what you talk about when you meet at the bar, you talk about it at the gas station," she said.

Players' skills have shot up after the installation of a youth sports development program "SMASH," which stands for Scales Mound Area Sports Headquarters.

Volunteers have propped up youth tournaments and fundamentals programs to increase participation across several sports.

"Now that we've built the success that we had — our school is all together, K-12 — they see juniors and seniors every day, and they make for good role models," Korte said.

Signs have brewed for a while that the team could be something special. A 55-game win streak for the JV team stretched across three seasons.

The team gave a competitive showing against last year's Class 4A IHSA champion Glenbard West earlier this year, trailing by eight at halftime.

What the players hope to show at today's 11 a.m. championship game: their signature brand of unselfish basketball, and a feast for their diehard fans.

"Everybody in that community will most likely be down here," Jacob Duerr said. "The only reason they're not here is if they're running a business and can't close back home.

"To see the fans as excited as we are to get on the court, it shows they care for us as much as we care for them. It means a lot to us kids."