As I watched the closing seconds of the Class 8A football state title game on TV on Saturday, I felt happy for newly crowned state champion Maine South which defeated previously unbeaten/juggernaut Loyola Academy 27-17.
Congratulations to coach Dave Inserra and the Hawks, who have a rapidly growing haul of six state championships. Maine South (10-3) plays the game the right way, and that counts for something, especially in light of these unforgettable, controversy-filled state playoffs.
After Maine South-Loyola, I clicked off the remote control and felt tired.
My lethargy stemmed from more than just a full day running around covering high school hoops turkey tournaments.
As much as I love high school football, the infamous ending to the Fenwick-Plainfield North Class 7A semifinals game, which I dubbed the “Travesty at Triton,” followed by the Friars’ entanglement with the IHSA and a disappointing day in court, had already drained me.
Call it Marty’s Varsity Blues.
Throw in Oak Park and River Forest High School’s ongoing investigation into alleged sexual misconduct involving students, and it’s been a remarkable, troubling and energy-sapping news/sports cycle.
While both stories (particularly Fenwick) drew major attention and myriad opinions from the media and public alike, I quickly soured on terms like allegations, investigations, injunctions, a TRO and by-laws.
I mean the reason I chose sports writing in the first place is that it’s fun, the sandbox of any editorial room.
As I caught portions of other football games this weekend, like Ohio State vs. Michigan and Alabama vs. Auburn, I started thinking about the magic great rivalries can conjure between loyal fan bases.
Passion for football reinstated! And with that, I’m reenergized like Popeye post-Spinach so here’s my take on local football.
While I realize the season ended in disappointing fashion locally for the Huskies and Friars, it’s important to remember the teams won 18 of 23 games, collectively, and provided steady entertainment for residents and football fans on a weekly basis.
That’s something we shouldn’t take for granted. Not a lot of towns can claim one let alone two high school football programs with the cachet of OPRF and Fenwick.
To that end, I offer one suggestion to improve our fortunate lot in the landscape of Illinois high school football.
OPRF and Fenwick should play each other in football on an annual basis!
Obviously, this is a topic that’s been discussed time and time again, but it’s unfortunate and illogical that the crosstown rivals don’t face off on the the football field each fall.
As a kid growing up in River Forest, my fondest memory of high school sports was jumping on my bike with my buddies from St. Luke and heading over the Oak Park Stadium for Huskies vs. Friars. Orange and Blue vs. Black and White, public high school vs. private high school, West Suburban Conference vs. Chicago Catholic League, It’s a Great Day vs. Friar Up.
Each year, the schools could have completely cheesy-yet-awesome t-shirts made like, “The Showdown on Scoville” or “The Rumble in River Grove.”
Talk about a ready-made renewed rivalry.
I’ve heard concerns about security, based on reported fights between students at previous sports events that spelled doom for football encounters. That’s a valid point, but I really don’t see why a representative number of police officers, school officials and security couldn’t ensure safety for all who attend the game.
Plus (and maybe this is my naivete) but I truly believe the students from each school would act responsibly at the game. The schools square off in virtually every other sport. For the most part (other than some knuckleheads at last year’s basketball game at UIC), the students have been respectful towards each other.
Let’s put some faith in the kids. Based on my experience, I tend to worry more about parental behavior.
This isn’t Purge night; it’s not even a Raiders game in the Black Hole. It’s Huskies-Friars in picturesque Oak Park. Play it on a Saturday afternoon to quell concerns and ensure Rockwellian fall football imagery a la Duchon Field in Glen Ellyn.
I’ve talked with people around town and players from both teams that are pro-rivalry. The consensus seems to favor an annual game between OPRF and Fenwick.
It would benefit Oak Park in multiple ways and provide each team a high-profile, resume-building nonconference game.
The annual showdown could be played at the start of the season with beautiful weather at the ready. Of course, it would be a home-and-home series, with OPRF hosting in town and then Fenwick welcoming the Huskies to its new digs at Triton College.
Future Huskies and Friars could marvel at their larger than life role models on the gridiron. Parents, family and friends could cheer on their favorite players. Throw in the schools’ stellar bands and cheerleaders to foster even more school spirit. Both mascots, the Huskie and Dom from Fenwick, could even mess with each other on the sidelines.
Perhaps, local businesses could sponsor the game. And what about implementing an altruistic aspect to the game, like helping a local charity with a portion of the gate proceeds or donations?.
I’m sure I could free up a few extra pages, too, in Wednesday Journal sports to promote the “Game of the Year.”
The possibilities are endless.
So why can’t this happen? I assume there are some logisitcs involved to which I’m not privy but anything can be solved with two willing parties and plenty of discussion. C’mon athletic directors, John Stelzer and Scott Thies (at OPRF and Fenwick, respectively), this is your chance to give Oak Park an early Christmas present for the future.
I know Coach John Hoerster at OPRF and Coach Gene Nudo at Fenwick hold each other and their respective programs in the highest regard.
Let’s put the wheels of progress in motion! Reflective of OPRF’s school motto, “Those things that are best,” and Fenwick’s slogan, “Veritas,” let’s endeavor to bring back a high point of the school year.
Close your eyes everybody and picture the following scenario. Well, you better actually open them to read the rest of this column but you get my point.
The Huskies trail Fenwick 34-30 with five seconds left in the fourth quarter at a packed Oak Park Stadium. OPRF’s quarterback Hunt goes back to pass under heavy pressure from Moorman and Taylor. Just before he’s taken to the ground, he gets a throw off to the right corner of the end zone. The 6-foot-6 Scott elevates with Fenwick cornerback Chapman draped all over him. Scott comes down with the ball.
Touchdown, touchdown Huskies screams public address announcer Michael LeFevre. OPRF wins!
Wait a minute, there’s a discussion among the officials. There’s a debate whether Scott’s feet landed in or out of the end zone.
“It’s Kejuan Ratcliff at Glenbard West Part II,” exclaims OPRF superfan Jonna Borgdorff, “but this time I think it’s ruled in our favor.”
Perhaps the IHSA should intervene? Wait, scratch that idea.
Here’s a better plan. Let’s play the game for real instead of in my mind so your tired sports editor and all of Oak Park won’t have to wonder about who’s the best team in town.