It’s IHSA football playoff time again. The Oak Park and River Forest Huskies, under the leadership of John Hoerster, have put together another solid regular season with an 8-1 record.
OPRF football under Hoerster has experienced a renaissance that has brought back a winning tradition. This team is something the entire community should be proud of; it represents Oak Park and River Forest well, both on and off the field. The reason for my long letter is that I’ve noticed a lack of buzz about this year’s team, and I’m not talking about the work that Marty Farmer does in Wednesday Journal (in fact, he’s excellent at covering the team as you will notice reading The Huddle).
What I’m talking about is the lack of passion I’m sensing. During the last couple of seasons after every game, I would go online to check out the comments. There would be lots and lots of comments on those stories, especially after losses. For the most part, there was good, healthy debate that brought out the true passion of OPRF fans.
This year, I’ve noticed far fewer comments after games; sometimes I’m the only one commenting. I don’t know if the change in comment policy has something to do with the lack of comments about OPRF football, but this is supposed to be a football town, so I’d expect more commentary.
Another reason I sense a lack of passion about this year’s team from the fan base is the attendance and atmosphere at Oak Park Stadium. Yes, we had a capacity crowd for Glenbard West, but it never got really loud and intimidating at any point. At times like this, the home crowd needs to be that “12th Man.” The cheers and yells provide a team a boost of energy, especially when it’s on defense. Unfortunately more often than not during the last three years, Oak Park Stadium has been laid back, even with the increased attendance.
Go to Glenbard West, go to Hinsdale Central, go to Maine South, Loyola, or Naperville Central. These schools have one thing in common: stadiums that are always packed and filled with energy and passion. The crowds at those places are true 12th Men and give their teams an emotional boost. That’s why they’re successful every year and why they’re tough to beat.
I’m not writing this because I’m the parent of an OPRF player (I’m not) nor because I’m an OPRF alum (I’m not). I’m writing this as a resident of Oak Park who is a passionate high school sports fan. I’m issuing an open challenge to everyone in Oak Park and River Forest. I know the parents and relatives of the Huskies players will always support the team. But given that the playoffs start this week, we as a fan base need to turn out in full force and turn Oak Park Stadium into a 12th Man. That means showing up to the stadium early, being loud and energetic at the start, always being supportive and encouraging, and (when the Huskies are on defense, especially on 3rd Down) yelling and rattling the opposing offense.
In my opinion, this year’s team has the right mental approach to the season: daily self-improvement and getting better as a team. Respect the opponent for that particular week and focus on what you have to do. Come Friday night, give the opponent your best shot.
That approach has worked so well for the Huskies and I don’t see them deviating from it. They will be fine. But come playoff time, games do tend to be close, and that’s where the 12th Man (the crowd) comes into play.
OPRF will host Fremd this Friday at 7. I want to see a capacity crowd that’s loud and intimidating. The Huskies know they have to step up their game. Guess what? So do we as fans. If Glenbard West, Hinsdale Central, and Naperville Central can have loud environments, there’s no reason we can’t.
This can be the start of a special run for the Huskies; we as a community need to show our appreciation by coming out en masse to the stadium. Let’s show our guys we’re with them all the way. Let’s be that 12th Man.