March Madness

Pardon me while I go off topic. I promise not to do this frequently. Watching the NCAA championship game Monday night brought back some memories – not as a player, besides being short, I was not very good – growing up in downstate Illinois. You see, the term “March Madness” was coined in Illinois to describe its then wide-open high school basketball tournament. This format gave even the smallest schools a shot at beating the large schools and sometimes David won. In 1952 Hebron, with a student population of 98, beat Quincy in overtime to become the smallest school to be state champions. The town continues to celebrate the Green Giants’ victory on their globe-shaped water tower that is painted to resemble a basketball. I recall the 1964 Cobden Appleknockers’ run for glory. This four-year high school boasting a student body of 128, half of which were girls, fielded a team that included two brothers and three cousins. The team dedicated its season to starting guard Tom Crowell who had drowned. The Appleknockers did not win it all, losing 50-45 to the Pekin Chinks. I don’t tease anyone about their team’s name because our local high school, Boiling Springs, calls its teams the Bubblers.

During the introductions I noticed that Ed Hightower was one of the officials. While attending graduate school at Indiana University I observed that he officiated many of their games. Someone with season tickets informed me that Indiana officials – read Bobby Knight – considered him to be the best. I recalled the Hightower name from one of the old guys who held court in the closest thing we had to a malt shop. He praised the play of a Hightower who had played for nearby Alton High some years prior. I never saw or heard much more about Hightower the basketball player. My wife and I notice that Ed Hightower still works a lot of Indiana and Texas Tech games. A few years ago she noticed that Ed was developing male pattern baldness.

After this year’s March Madness subsided I looked up Ed Hightower on the internet and found that he is too young to be the person those guys were talking about. However, his day job is as Superintendent of Edwardsville, Illinois schools, the same district that I attended from grades 4 through 9. He is also on the Board of Trustees for Southern Illinois at Edwardsville where I got my bachelor’s degree some decades ago. Seeing Ed officiate those games brings back memories of following snow plows to important games and waiting for a repair crew to replace a backboard shattered in pre-game warm-ups.

Although Ed Hightower has received awards for his work, the Golden Whistle most notable, and has been selected to work twelve Final Fours, his job has not always been the easiest. A notable example was the game he worked in which Chris Webber called a timeout he didn’t have. He has missed games due to injury but at least, as my wife noticed, his baldness seems to have gone away.


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