As a kid growing up in Chicago Heights, Bloom basketball was every kid's dream of playing for. Just being on the team was a ticket for greatness in the community. Being on the team was a badge of honor. And to uphold that honor, was to do only one thing, beat Thornton!
The Bloom-Thornton rivalry dates back to the '20s, but arguably, the '60s, introduced a whole new intensity in that rivalry (the two will meet again at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in the semifinals of the Class 4A Lockport Sectional).
In the year 2000, Bloom celebrated it centennial year, 100 years old. Over 3,000 former Trojans were back for a massive reunion. As the coordinator of events, I heard all sorts of tales of Bloom history, but none stood out more in the minds of most of the attendees as the tales regarding our arch-rival, Thornton.
To kids growing up in the south suburbs during the '60s, the Michael Jordans of our minds and times were names like Homer Thurman, LaMarr Thomas, Richard Thomas, Lloyd Batts, Jim Ard and Claude White.
On Friday nights in the south suburbs when Bloom played Thornton, it was the "greatest show on earth." Lakers-Celtics be damned, Chicago-Detroit dah?
Businesses closed early to accommodate their customers and employees in getting to the game in time enough to get a seat, or to get in. You had to get there during the start of the sophomore game to be assured a decent seat for the varsity game.
There was, in my mind, no greater game to win, than beating Thornton. But, alas, it seemed as though every time Bloom had a chance to go to the post-season, we had to go through Thornton. They were the first thing on our team's mind, because we knew that they would possibly be the last thing on our mind at the end of the season. During my pre-varsity days, Thornton always prevailed over us (it still stings a bit).
I used the thoughts of losing to Thornton over my Bloom idols as a motivational tool. When I needed to push myself a bit further, I thought of purple and white—Thornton. I used it to push myself to whatever place I needed to be to win, to beat Thornton. I swore that if I ever made it to varsity that I would not lose to them, no matter what it took, and "by any means necessary."
When I heard that Bloom had beaten Sandburg in last week's recent regional game and would thus have to play Thornton, memories flooded my mind of the "Rivalry." For a brief moment, goosebumps appeared as they once did every time I stepped on the court to play Thornton.
I thought to myself, 'I wonder if other former players have similar feeling, and what was their impressions of the rivalry.' Or even if they felt that there was such a thing as "The Rivalry."
So I contacted two of the greatest names of the '60's to ask what they felt about the so-called "Rivalry."
I contacted Lloyd Batts ('66-'70), arguably one of the greatest player ever to come out of Thornton, and Claude White ('65-'69), also thought to be one of the greatest true point guards ever to come out of Bloom.
I asked them as series of questions regarding the '60s and their thoughts about Bloom/Thornton basketball.
This just a small sampling of the thoughts they shared with me.
"I listened on the radio (eighth grade) to my heroes losing to Thornton in a big game and from that moment on, my in passion for basketball had a beginning and beating Thornton was my basketball goal," Claude White said.
"My roots were in Chicago, but I moved to Harvey in time to play for a high school named Thornton my freshmen year. I did not know much of a rilvary before I got there, but it was quickly engrained in my head, Bloom was our only obstacle," Lloyd Batts said.
"My greatest memory of that rilvery was my junior year ('69) playing with Bloom all-stater Richard Thomas. We were up most of the second half, and due to a series of bad plays late in the game, we lost, it still effects me," Claude White said.
"During my entire career, we never lost to Bloom until my senior year ('69-'70), a boy named Gary Clark had an outstanding game, along with some young upstarts, beat us. It hurt because we were a nationally ranked team during that time," Lloyd Batts said.
"I remember playing Bloom in a regular conference game, and as usual, it came down to the end of the game to determine the outcome. Late in the third, I took a long shot from the corner at Bloom and it went in. I faded into the stands onto some Bloom fans in the front row. I thought they were trying to kill me! I got up quickly and got over to my teamsmates. That's how intense those games were, and what those games meant to the fans," Lloyd Bates said.
"Every time we played Thorton, the gyms were packed and every seat was taken. We used to say if you did not know someone, you stood little chance of getting a seat at tipoff," Claude White said.
I could not let them get away without asking what all Bloom-Thornton sports junkies would like to know. I asked them both, who were the best players they would have liked to play with them in an all-time '60s game between the two schools. Here are their two teams:
Lloyd Batt's Thornton Team: Lamar Thomas; Jim Ard; Harry Hall; Lloyd Batts; Melvin Halbert.
Claude White's Bloom Team: Homer Thurman; Grady McCollum; Bobbie Bell; Art Oliver; Claude White.
What became clear from my conversations with these two legends was that they too were affected by "the rivalry." That its effects followed them well past their high school careers. That they lived and played in a golden era for south suburban basketball. That their entire high school basketball careers were umbilically linked. And that it was never just Bloom vs. Thornton in their minds. It was more tyhan just a game, it was two communities that used those matchups as ways to feel a bit better about ourselves and where we lived.
Finally, it was such a pleasure to talk to two of my personal high school idols, who I had the pleasure to play with and against. Other than my cousin Richard Thomas (mid '60s all-stater), these two players greatly influence my life. I hung up from them with a greater appreciation of the "rivalry" and what it meant to two communities.
Oh, by the way, that game Mr. Batts lost his senior year, was my junior year, and as a varsity starter, we finally beat them at home. I remembered the stands/fans erupting unto the floor after the final buzzer went off. It is a memory that still is important to me. I fulfilled a childhood dream.
To both teams, play for more than a win, you have the an opportunity to add to a long legacy, we like to call, "The Rivalry."