Arnold: Johnsburg basketball's lights out show memorable
JOHNSBURG – The bells still get to Steve Dixon every time.
Even after all the games the senior guard has played during his Johnsburg basketball career, Dixon can't explain why he gets goosebumps when the Skyhawks home gym goes pitch black and the chimes from Metallica's "For Whom The Bell Tolls" start pumping through the darkness.
Dixon can't explain why a feeling he can't quite put into words will again come over him when he makes his final home appearance in Thursday night's Fox Valley Conference crossover game against Crystal Lake South.
Let's get one thing straight. Johnsburg's pregame player introductions aren't exactly original. Skyhawks announcer Barry Beshel was in high school when former Chicago Stadium announcer Ray Clay's voice energetically introduced Michael Jordan and his teammates in a often-impersonated flourish of music and technology.
But give Mike Toussaint credit. The Johnsburg coach has turned his team's lights-out version into an event. And the players, who emerge out of the darkness with two manually operated spotlights borrowed from school's theater department whirling on them, love every minute.
"It just gives you this feeling in your heart," Dixon said. "You get so jacked up for the game."
Added senior guard Collin Ridout: "The energy is through the roof...It definitely gets the blood flowin'.
Toussaint has used the pregame routine for years, dating back to when he coached Johnsburg's girls varsity. He remembers getting peeved at an opposing coach when Burlington Central turned its lights out. Every time, he had to calm himself down, convincing himself that the showtime treatment wasn't worth getting worked up over. Deep down, though, it bugged the heck out of him.
Now, Toussaint is the one having the light switch flipped, the spotlights swirled and the music blared in an effort to unnerve his team's opponents. Every aspect of the show – including the music can be filed under the category of "Coach's Decision."
"I'm pretty sure coach Toussaint is a pretty big Metallica fan," Dixon said.
To Toussaint, the way his team introduces its players is part of what makes Johnsburg....well....Johnsburg. With the five starters, Beshel spotlights what neighborhood or subdivision each represents, adding another unique flair to to the finished product.
But truth be told, that too got its roots from another school. Toussaint recalls a girls game against Fenwick, when each of the starters were identified by which Catholic grade school they attended.
"Out of St. Agatha," Toussaint says in his best announcer voice.
The shoutout to the neighborhoods, though, is distinctly Johnsburg.
The rural community of 8,000 is known for producing a pair of University of Iowa stars – current Hawkeyes sharpshooter Melissa Dixon and NFL-bound tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz. But in Johnsburg, what part of town one calls home matters. And the players, who hail from places like Jak Ana Heights, Emberwood West and Windy Prairie Acres, will be the first to make sure you know it.
Steve Dixon, younger brother to former Northwest Herald Players of the Year Mike and Melissa, also counts John Smith – star of Johnsburg's 2003 state tournament team – as a fellow Jak Ana Heights alum, making adding his name to his neighborhood's Who's Who list a memorable part of his Skyhawks basketball career.
On Thursday night, Dixon – the Skyhawks' resident motivational speaker – will experience the light show one final time.
That bring us to Beshel, the Johnsburg Junior High social studies teacher whose voice completes the pregame package. Ever since Toussaint came up with the way he wanted to introduce his lineup, Beshel was his guy. There was no audition, no pressure – just the ability to read a script in what Beshel refers to in his "fake guy, announcer voice".
"As long as (Toussaint) likes it and the kids like it, that's the important part," Beshel said.
Judging by the excitement level that pops through Johnsburg's starting line-up and the way the Skyhawks produce better starts at home than they do on the road, Beshel has nothing to worry about.
Just as long as the bells go off when they're supposed to. Cue the goosebumps.
Jeff Arnold is a Northwest Herald sports reporter. Email him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @NWH_JeffArnold