By Brad Spencer
You know already, so why am I telling you? Here in Oak Park, football has been resurrected from a deep, dark place. Football is back, back in the spotlight and back in the headlines. Football is back, baby.
You recall the days of sitting in the bleachers at a quiet Oak Park Stadium, plenty of room to stretch, to do Kung Fu moves, or to sit as far away from the band as possible? You remember those days when football was an afterthought, nothing but muffled background noise as students talked about what to do that night, a Saturday night? Skip up the ramp, walk east along the gangway, look up and there was more open space at Oak Park Stadium than in all of Oak Park.
And then the lights finally went up and then a new coach took over and, well, football became revitalized. Don't get me wrong, the wins helped resurrect the sport, as well as the competitiveness involved in the losses. But it was really a combination of all these things and now we have what we had here two weeks ago, approximately 5,000 people taking in a local high school football game at Oak Park Stadium. Five thousand butts in the seats. Well, not all of them in the seats, some were forced to stand — mostly the Glenbard West butts. Ha-ha.
The wonderful thing about that number is that the stadium's capacity tops out at around 5,000. Athletic Director John Stelzer told me the average attendance since the lights went up in 2009 has been approximately 3,500. Within the school, Stelzer added, the football frenzy is palpable, widespread.
"There has definitely been a renewed student interest in Friday night football games," he said. "The past two years our student section has been full (approx. 600-800 students) for most games."
The students have even gotten creative by adding theme nights, like White-Out, Pink-Out and Beat-the-Team-in-Green. OPRF has star players again: Simmie Cobbs, Jamal Baggett, Lloyd Yates just to name a few, all three possible Division-I prospects.
And the best part about it is that the football fever also exists about a half mile south down East Street where Fenwick jumped off to its best start in 18 years. The Friars, being led by guys like Gino Cavalieri, Keshaun Smith, Robert Spillane, Ryan Smith and Rich Schoen, are currently 6-1. Fenwick can even be considered a Chicago Catholic League powerhouse again. The Friars will vie for the White Division title against De La Salle this Friday.
Yes, the tides have turned for both programs. And, who knows, Fenwick may even get a stadium of its own someday, forcing us locals the luxury of having to weigh the potentially better game to attend on the same night.
But you knew that already, so why am I telling you?