PEORIA, Ill. -- Former Harlem Globetrotter Curly "Boo" Johnson traveled all the way from Arizona to watch Saturday's IHSA boys basketball 3A title game.
Johnson is a Peoria High alumni. Roughly 30 years ago he just missed out on going to state. This time its personal.
"I'm very emotional during the games," admitted Johnson. "I was sitting close to the scorer's table and they kept looking back at me yesterday because I was getting pretty heated at times, fanatical or whatever you want to call it."
The Lions were playing North Chicago Saturday and enjoyed the ultimate home court advantage. Carver Arena is practically within walking distance of Peoria High.
"It makes it more exciting. People get a little bit more juiced," said Kirk Wesller, the sports editor for the Peoria Journal Star newspaper. "You have closer relationships with those people during the season and from one season to the next."
No one understands that relationship better than Donna Zipprich. Another Peoria High alum, she's been going to the games since she was in grade school. She says this is the most fun she's had in years.
"Wonderful. Just absolutely wonderful. These are great kids, all of them," proclaimed Zipprich, one of the school's oldest fans. "They've worked hard, they've overcome a lot of adversity, they're not all feeling up to par and they still stay in there and fight and I admire them."
That work ethic resulted in the Lions building a double digit lead in the second half. Tony Wysinger, who helped Peoria High reach state in 1983, thinks that trait comes directly from another ex-Lion, head coach Dan Ruffin.
"They didn't always have the success but the one thing I like about Peoria High is they stuck with Coach Ruffin," said Wysinger. "They gave him that opportunity and now you've got all the former players coming back watching the guys do some of the things they're doing now."
The Lions made themselves at home too, beating North Chicago, 72-64, for the school's first state title since 2004.