Call it force of habit, or better yet, tradition, but on Friday, Jan. 15, the coaches of the Litchfield High School basketball put up the banner for the Rick McGraw Memorial Invitational along the stage bordering the court at Simmons Gym.
The next day should have been the start of the 54th edition of the tournament, previously known as the Litchfield Invitational Tournament before LHS honored its long-time benefactor Rick McGraw and the McGraw family. Instead, like gymnasiums all across Illinois, Simmons Gym was dark, a victim of COVID-19 safeguards.
While the tournament has undergone changes over the last half century, 2021 is the first year that the tournament hasn’t crowned a champion since Madison defeated Litchfield for the title in year one, 1968.
For the last ten years, the tournament has been a four-game affair, with 19 different teams playing. Actually, you can add one more to that list as Roxana’s JV team filled in for one game in 2012 after East Alton-Wood River waited out an ice storm on Friday night in Panther Gym, then opted to go home Saturday morning rather than face Hillsboro in the 12th place game later that night.
Nine teams have won the title in those ten years, with Mt. Zion the only school to win twice, going back-to-back in 2017 and 2018. The Braves, who were leaving in 2021 after eight years at the LIT, were led by Jonah Smith, just the second player to win back-to-back MVP awards, along with Litchfield’s Brian Horst in 1984 and 1985.
Pana started off the decade with a title in the 2010-2011 tournament, with Mitchell Beyers taking MVP honors, followed by Marquette in 2012 behind MVP Jake Coddington. The Explorers would leave the tournament the next year.
Nokomis would win its fourth LIT title in 2013, with Devon Wright earning MVP honors and eventually leading the Redskins to a third place finish at state.
After that it was Greenville in 2015 (Will Schaufelberger), Metro-East Lutheran in 2016 (Teddy Fifer), Mt. Zion’s two titles and Taylorville’s first championship since 1983 behind sharpshooting senior Jack Livingston. The Tornadoes came back to the tournament after a long absence in 2015 and have been red hot, with three seconds, a third and a fourth to go along with their championship.
Triad rounded out the decade with a win in their return to Litchfield, with Luke Cox not only earning MVP honors, but netting a record 22 three-pointers in the Knights’ four games, besting both Jonathan McLeod’s (Pana) four-game record of 19 and Mike McGraw’s (Litchfield) five-game record of 21.
Cox’s record isn’t the only one held by a Triad grad. Randy Droy holds two records, most points in one game (43) and most free throws in one game (19), both of which have stood for 50 years now. Droy was in attendance for last year’s championship game and nearly watched his record fall when Cox scored 40 in the win over Taylorville.
The performance by Cox, who also came up one point short of the four-game tournament scoring record held by Shawn Patton of Columbia (120), was one of the highlights of the 2020 tournament, but 2021 was destined to be led by a new set of stars.
Eight of the 11 spots on the 2020 all-tournament team were held by seniors, including Cox and teammate Michael Tentis, three-time selection Jase Bergschneider of Taylorville and four-time honoree Carter Sabol of Nokomis.
Scheduled to return were Andrew Ambrose of Pana, Fletcher Manhart of Greenville and Felipe Garcia of Gateway Legacy, a Christian private school that featured students from all over the globe.
Matoon was also scheduled to make the trip from the eastern half of Illinois as a replacement for the departing Mt. Zion.
Alas, fans are left with questions of what might have been regarding the 2021 tournament, but fear not, the event will be back next year and hopefully better than ever.
“We miss the teams, the fans, the officials and the army of workers/volunteers that make our tournament so successful,” Coach Drew Logan said. “It’s a hectic week, but the best week of the season for sure.”
Rick McGraw Memorial Invite
2011 - Pana - Mitchell Beyers (Jr.)
2012 - Marquette - Jake Coddington (Jr.)
2013 - Nokomis - Devon Wright (Sr.)
2014 - Civic Memorial - Jakob Lowrance (Jr.)
2015 - Greenville - Will Schaufelberger (Sr.)
2016 - Metro-East Lutheran - Teddy Fifer (Sr.)
2017 - Mt. Zion - Jonah Smith (Jr.)
2018 - Mt. Zion - Jonah Smith (Sr.)
2019 - Taylorville - Jack Livingston (Sr.)
2020 - Triad - Luke Cox (Sr.)
Rick McGraw Memorial Invite
Team Wins Wins/Trn.
Civic Memorial 26 2.60
Nokomis 25 2.50
Mt. Zion 23 2.88
Pana 21 2.10
Greenville 20 2.00
Roxana 19 2.11
Taylorville 18 3.00
MEL 18 2.00
Hillsboro 17 1.70
Litchfield 15 1.50
Lebanon 10 1.11
Columbia 9 2.25
Marquette 7 3.50
Triad 4 4.00
Gateway Legacy 3 3.00
EAWR 3 0.38
Father McGivney 1 1.00
Taylorville JV 1 1.00
Ramsey 0 0.00
Rick McGraw Memorial Invite
2020 All-Tournament Team: Carter Sabol (Sr.), Nokomis; Nic Ondrey (Sr.), Hillsboro; Alex Reams (Sr.), Civic Memorial; Felipe Garcia (Jr.), Gateway Legacy; Fletcher Manhart (Jr.), Greenville; Andrew Ambrose (Jr.), Pana; Jonah Lauff (Sr.), Pana; Michael Tentis (Sr.), Triad; Jase Bergschneider (Sr.), Taylorville; Tyler Heimsness (Sr.), Taylorville. MVP: Luke Cox (Sr.) Triad.
2019 All-Tournament Team: Landon Carroll (Sr.), Hillsboro; Sam Painter (Sr.), Litchfield; Trevor Wright (Sr.), Nokomis; Carter Sabol (Jr.), Nokomis; Bryce Zupan (Sr.), Civic Memorial; Demonte Bean (Sr.), Metro-East Lutheran; Isaac Green (Jr.), Greenville; Andrew Beckman (So.), Roxana; Nick Livingston (Sr.), Taylorville; Jase Bergschneider (Jr.), Taylorville; MVP: Jack Livingston (Sr.), Taylorville.
2018 All-Tournament Team: Demonte Bean (Jr.), Metro-East Lutheran; David Krumsieg (Sr.), Lebanon; Peyton Tester (Sr.), Hillsboro; Brock Nelson (Jr.), Greenville; Bryce Zupan (Jr.), Civic Memorial; Carter Sabol (So.), Nokomis; Jaquan Adams (Sr.), Civic Memorial; Trevor Durand (Sr.), Mt. Zion; Jace Bergschneider (So.), Taylorville; Jordan Moats (Sr.), Taylorville; MVP: Jonah Smith (Sr.), Mt. Zion.
2017 All-Tournament Team: Carter Sabol (Fr.), Nokomis; Kevin Cox (Sr.), Mt. Zion; Jaquan Adams (Jr.), Civic Memorial; David Lane (Sr.), Civic Memorial; Zach Golenor (Sr.), Roxana; Steven Fenske (Sr.), Hillsboro; Brady Simpson (Sr.), Greenville; Braden Woosley (Sr.), Metro-East Lutheran; Adam Miller (Sr.), Pana; Logan Clayton (Sr.), Taylorville. MVP: Jonah Smith (Jr.) Mt. Zion.
2016 All-Tournament Team: Rhett Zahradka (Sr.), Pana; Conner Simmons (Sr.), Litchfield; Trace Gentry (Sr.), Roxana; Logan Clayton (Jr.), Taylorville; Charles Kuhle (Jr.), Mt. Zion; Reid Detmers (Jr.), Nokomis; Brett Lane (Sr.), Civic Memorial; Jason Johnson (Sr.), Metro-East Lutheran; David Holden (Sr.), Greenville; David Lane (Jr.), Civic Memorial. MVP: Teddy Fifer (Sr.), Metro-East Lutheran.
2015 All-Tournament Team: Teddy Fifer (Jr.), Metro-East Lutheran; Mike Stimac (Sr.), East Alton-Wood River; Zack Lehnen (Sr.), Civic Memorial; David Holden (Jr.), Greenville; Marcus Chausse (Sr.), Nokomis; Blake Marks (Jr.), East Alton-Wood River; Jakob Lowrance (Sr.), Civic Memorial; Payton Grinestaff (Sr.), Mt. Zion; Eric Dust (Sr.), Taylorville; Mitchell Rhymes (Sr.), Taylorville. MVP: Will Schaufelberger (Sr.), Greenville.
2014 All-Tournament Team: Craig Faulkner (Jr.), Greenville; Mike Stimac (Jr.) East Alton-Wood River; Charlie Sheets (Sr.) Roxana; Austin Bryant (Sr.), Litchfield; Payton Grinestaff (Jr.), Mt. Zion; Kyle Gibson (Sr.), Pana; Dylan Miller (Jr.), Hillsboro; Korbin Farmer (So.), Columbia; Jansen Helmkamp (Sr.), Civic Memorial; Austin Chausse (Sr.), Nokomis. MVP: Jakob Lowrance (Jr.), Civic Memorial.
2013 All-Tournament Team: Austin Chausse (Jr.), Nokomis; Paul Klarich (Jr.), Metro-East Lutheran; Jakob Lowrance (So.), Civic Memorial; Jacob Wessel (So.), Columbia; Dylan Miller (So.), Hillsboro; Grant Pyatt, Mt. Zion; Dylon Hudlin (Sr.), Pana; Peter Cui (Sr.), Litchfield; Hunter Reine (Sr.), Roxana; Matt Hartnett (Jr.), Roxana. MVP: Devon Wright (Sr.), Nokomis.
2012 All-Tournament Team: Matt DeLuka (Sr.), Hillsboro; Dale Volentine (Sr.), Litchfield; Brendan Pesko (Sr.), Nokomis; Jared McMillen (Sr.), Pana; Allen Kile (Sr.), Pana; Hunter Reine (Jr.), Roxana; Michael Hunsaker (Jr.), Columbia; Tommy Pilackas (Sr.), Lebanon; Jacob Fanshier (Sr.), Metro-East Lutheran; D’Tae McMurray (So.), Marquette. MVP: Jake Coddington (Jr.), Marquette.
2011 All-Tournament Team: D’Tae McMurray (Fr.), Marquette; Derrik Starrett (Jr.), Marquette; Jared McMillen (Jr.), Pana; Tommy Pilackas (Jr.), Lebanon; Brad Perry (Jr.), Greenville; Ryan Touchette (Sr.), Roxana; Bryce Bastien (Sr.), Columbia; Derek Bourke (Sr.), Nokomis; Tyler Sonsoucie (Sr.), Lebanon; Taylor Knight (Sr.), Civic Memorial. MVP: Mitchell Beyers (Jr.), Pana.