The Belleville West boys basketball team, with trophy and medals in hand, was welcomed home on Sunday by friends, family, Mayor Mark Eckert and Belleville residents who came out to show their support for the back-to-back state championship team.
In a parade that started at Signal Hill and ended at the high school, the Maroons and coach Joe Muniz rode a fire engine as cars with balloons and pom poms followed. Fans lined the streets from all corners of the city, chanting, waving and honking car horns in support of the team.
The team (34-4) won the state title in the Peoria-based tournament on Saturday night, with senior forward Will Shumpert scoring 20 points in the second half and senior all-stater EJ Liddell scoring 24. They beat Evanston High School 71-59 in the 4A class.
“We’ve been following along and driving to most of the games,” said longtime Belleville resident Byron Goodrich, who was at the high school with his family on Sunday. “It’s such an exciting time.”
Though Byron went to East, his wife went to West and two of his daughters are currently students there. He said it was great to see how the community has rallied together to support the team.
That sentiment was echoed by Belleville District 201 Superintendent Jeff Dosier, who said it was amazing how the metro-east is supporting not only the West champions, but also the East St. Louis High School basketball team that won its 3A class in the tournament, making two teams from the Southwestern Conference to win state titles.
“It’s just really special to see how supportive they’ve been of each other and it’s really taken the place by storm,” he said.
Following the parade, a reception at the school gym was held to honor the team, with fans filling the bleachers and a pep band and cheerleaders radiating school spirit. Those who spoke, including Mayor Eckert, all commended the team and coaches for their actions both on and off the court.
“You represent yourselves, school and the city fantastically,” Eckert told them. “This city is extremely proud of you.”
Goodrich also praised the team for their sportsmanship.
“They are such an unselfish team,” he said. “Those boys are great role models.”
Jeremy Witt, a teacher at West who leads the student section and was in Peoria for the big win, said it’s an awesome feeling to have this opportunity two years in a row.
“They’ve made history here,” he said.
“We’re proud to go to this school,” said West freshman Averi Clifton, who was in attendance at the reception. “No other school here has this kind of thing happen two years in a row.”
Coach Muniz thanked the school district and school board for allowing the team to compete nationally this year, which he said greatly impacted how well they played on Saturday. He also thanked his players, growing emotional as he spoke about the seniors who will be graduating, including Liddell, who will play basketball at Ohio State next year and Keith Randolph, who will play football at Illinois.
“You’ll be remembered as one of the best teams of all time,” he said.