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The significance of Hampshire's girls basketball game against Richmond-Burton Tuesday night probably is more acknowledged by those of more years than the current participants. Those such as the former legendary coach seated center court in the front row; those such as the parents and fans seated in the stands who understand; even those old journalists who still sort of remember some of the great teams but clearly recall all of the great memories.
To the current participants, it probably wasn't a thought until the question was asked, but Tuesday night was the final time a Hampshire girls basketball team will play a Big Northern Conference game.
That the Whip-Purs got tough when they had to in order to salvage a 60-52 win was fitting. Fitting because the Hampshire girls basketball program, if nothing else, has always been tough.
Tough to beat, that is. Especially in the Big Northern. Or the Little Eight. Or the Big Eight, the predecessors to the Big Northern, but all three made up of the same core of schools.
Tuesday's win sewed up a 23rd conference championship in the 35 years there has been girls basketball at Hampshire.
Twenty-three for 35. Give me that batting average on my fantasy team.
Many of those titles came under the legend, Milt Awe, a few came under Sue Ellett and this one under Ed Haugens, who coached his second straight conference championship team, having shared the Fox Valley Conference Valley Division crown with Cary-Grove last year in his final season at Jacobs. The final tally is 39 straight Big Northern East wins. The dominance Hampshire had over this conference for so long can't be told in a number.
Now Hampshire is going to the Fox Valley Conference. The Whip-Purs join the Fox Division next season and now, instead of smooth trips out Routes 72 or 20 to Rockford, Byron, Stillman Valley or Winnebago, old yellow will be fighting suburbia when the Whips travel to places like Johnsburg, Grayslake and Crystal Lake on a regular basis. Heck, even the trips to Woodstock will be stop-and-go.
"It's been a great tradition of winning here," Haugens would say after Tuesday's win, which put the cap on Hampshire's fourth straight Big Northern East title.
"I think we'll be just fine in the Fox Valley."
Senior Alex Dumoulin has been a part of the program for four straight conference championships, but she didn't seem to be real cognizant of the fact Tuesday was Hampshire's final Big Northern game. That's no knock on Alex. She's getting ready to head off to college, so she'll never play in the FVC. Given a minute to think about it, she said, "It's been a good run for us here. We've been able to maintain all of our goals."
Junior Grace Jakubowski, the team's point guard who will play in the FVC, acknowledged the upcoming change.
"It's going to be a big change but we've got the mindset and the heart to compete in the Fox Valley Conference," she said. "It's a different game but we're really confident we can compete."
Whether or not the Whips compete in the FVC or not remains to be seen. But what was crystal clear Tuesday night to me, those parents and fans who understand, and the legend sitting at center court is this:
We witnessed the end of an era.