Robert Rexroade is used to people around Seneca still bringing up the Class A boys basketball state championship won by the Fighting Irish his senior year in 2006.
By now, Rexroade figured few people outside of the area remembered that team. These days, four new boys state champions are crowned every year by the IHSA.
Saturday night, Rexroade and a few of his former teammates were shown that, in the context of Illinois high school basketball, their accomplishments still resonate. He was one of six players and three coaches from that 2006 team in attendance as it was inducted into the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame during a ceremony at Illinois State University in Normal.
“You don’t really realize that people outside of town, from the whole state of Illinois, were watching us and recognized what we were doing and that we were able to complete our goal of an undefeated season,” Rexroade said. “You don’t realize that people remember that, I guess, until you’re sitting down in Bloomington in front of 1,200 people.”
Longtime Seneca head coach Doug Evans called Rexroade and other members of the team earlier this year to inform them of the induction. Players from the team in attendance were recognized for it during a Feb. 9 basketball game hosted by Seneca at which 2006 graduate Garrett Callahan had his jersey number retired.
It became official Saturday. Along with Callahan and Rexroade, players Griffan Callahan, Marty Hetelle, Nathan Hogue and Steven Pearson and assistant coaches Jeff Stenzel, Nate Nollen and Shane Trager were there to accept the honor.
“It made you reflect on what this team did for this town and for Seneca High School,” Stenzel said. “For me, it was just simply impressive to walk into that room. It’s not very often you see former NBA basketball players like Michael Finley and basketball players like Jabari Parker and other former Illinois greats. You don’t get to walk into that room very often.”
According to Stenzel, more time usually elapses between a team’s championship season and its IBCA induction than did for the ‘06 Irish. That is seemingly on purpose; a speaker at the ceremony reportedly described them as one of the greatest Class A teams in state history.
“I think it’s the way we defended,” Garrett Callahan said, when asked why the team might merit that kind of praise. “A lot of the great teams were offensive-minded, but we loved beating people up on defense as a team. What we did was unlike anything some people had ever seen, which made us stick out. We didn’t necessarily score 100 points on you, but we held people down.”
Seneca allowed an average of just over 34.3 points per game that season, which Stenzel says broke a state record.
“I’ll share with you a comment we got from another coach, from Riverdale,” Stenzel said. “He said, ‘You guys are simply a machine. Everybody knows where everybody is going, and you don’t let up. You guys are just a defensive machine.’”
Regardless of their defensive success, Saturday brought an unexpected decoration to members of the 2006 Irish.
“It was exciting,” Rexroade. “Growing up, you want to do the best you can. You maybe think about winning a state championship, but of course you don’t think about the chance to be in a Hall of Fame someday.”