PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) – Concordia Lutheran School, along with a packed gymnasium, Saturday, hosted it’s second annual Pack the Den event where they honored a team that left a legacy that has yet to have been surpassed.
In 1999 and 2000, Concordia’s 7th and 8th-grade boys’ basketball team won Lutheran State Championships. This is a feat the school’s former coach Tom Ruppert said, to this day, makes him as happy as he was two decades ago.
“[I’m] equally proud today as I was 20 years ago,” Ruppert said. “These boys are very special and were tremendously talented and were together as a team.”
These sentiments were mutual for the players who returned to the school for the event, such as Ryan Stewart. During the event, a short video was played of the boys’ basketball team playing 20 years ago.
Stewart said although they don’t get the chance to see each other much, he looks back on those memories with his former teammates, especially 3-time NBA champion Shaun Livingston, with nostalgia.
“We just had so much fun,” Stewart said. “We were one of the best grade school teams in the state and the nation. You know it’s just a fond memory that you’ll always have and get to talk about and you know it’s just a great memory.”
The event also included basketball games from the current 7th and 8th graders. Zach Reed, who also attended, offered advice to those current students that are following in their footsteps.
“These coaches were able to take a group of guys who were just playing basketball outside on the court and were able to make champions out of them,” Reed said. “So it’s a great foundation here and a great organization. So keep playing hard and you can make it.”
Seeing how their success is being celebrated, Stewart said he hopes Peoria can once again become a great city for basketball.
“This was really a one time and still can be a mecca for basketball and I hope it really kind of gets back to that,” Stewart said.
The event took place in the school’s Ruppert Center gymnasium. In 2016, Shaun Livingston donated $1 million for the gym’s renovation and expansion.