The Pekin boys basketball team suffered a tough 55-40 loss Friday night to Mid-Illini Conference rival Morton.

A few hours later on an icy, cold Saturday morning, after the players had done an hour of weightlifting, the defeat the previous night was put into perspective from them.

Pekin players, coaches and others connected to the team delivered food baskets and children's presents gathered by volunteers from the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and St. Joseph Catholic Church in Pekin to struggling families in Pekin.

Making the deliveries -- always on the last Saturday morning before Christmas -- in their basketball warm-ups is a nearly 20-year tradition for Pekin players.

"Doing it reminds us each year how lucky we are," said senior Carter Taphorn.

Kathy Babb of Marquette Heights, who organizes the Christmas delivery program with her husband Ron Babb, said the Pekin players always have smiles on their faces and are well-behaved.

"They don't seem to mind lifting those heavy food baskets," she said.

Some 120 food baskets are delivered each year by volunteers to homes in Tazewell County. Each child helped by the program receives two age-appropriate presents.

Pat Taphorn, in his 20th season as a Pekin boys basketball team assistant coach, brought the idea of players making deliveries to then-Pekin Coach Joe Stoner.

"My wife (Lisa) and I are very involved at St. Joseph and we heard the church needed help with the deliveries," Pat Taphorn said. "Joe (Stoner) wanted his players to do some community service, so he thought it was a good idea."

"It's important for the guys on the team to learn what's important outside of basketball."

The deliveries have continued from Stoner to his successor, Dave Mott, and now coach Jeff Walraven.

Pekin coaches often help with the deliveries. This year, assistant coaches Jeremy Crouch and Kevin Jones participated along with Pat and Lisa Taphorn.

There's another Pekin boys basketball tradition associated with the deliveries.

Afterwards, everyone has breakfast at the Busy Corner Restaurant on Derby Street in Pekin.

Santa Claus was at Busy Corner on Saturday. A few Pekin players had an opportunity to tell the big guy what they wanted for Christmas.

"It was good to do the deliveries then have breakfast together to recuperate from the loss to Morton," Carter Taphorn said.