The year was 1989. George H.W. Bush was president of the United States, gasoline averaged $1.06 per gallon, a loaf of bread cost 67 cents, a dozen eggs cost 95 cents and a postage stamp was 22 cents.
That year was also the last time that Oak Park and River Forest and Fenwick High Schools met on the football field. Until this year, that is, as the Huskies and Friars will open the season with a head-to-head matchup.
The head coaches — Matt Battaglia of Fenwick and John Hoerster of OPRF — expressed their enthusiasm during recent phone interviews with the Wednesday Journal.
“It’s a great rivalry, and I’m proud that I can be a part of it on the football end,” said Battaglia. “I hadn’t been alive the last time these two schools played each other so it’s an honor to be the head coach leading the Friars into this matchup.”
“I know in other sports we have the opportunity to play Fenwick, and it’s nice to have the rivalry continue on the football field as well,” said Hoerster.
Both coaches said their players were fired up when the game was announced this offseason.
“There are a lot of common relationships between the programs,” Hoerster said. “A lot of the kids know each other through youth sports or the neighborhood. I know a lot of their kids and I think there’s a healthy rivalry there. Our kids are excited about the opportunity.”
“In the offseason, [Fenwick athletic director] Scott Thies told me he was talking with Nicole [Ebsen, OPRF’s athletic director],” Battaglia said. “I told them I thought it’d be great for the school, student body and community if we could get something rolling. We were all excited when we were able to agree on terms for a contract. The whole team as well as our student body have been really excited, and it’s provided energy heading into the season.”
Going into his 12th season, Hoerster aims to return OPRF to the postseason. The Huskies narrowly missed out last season, losing in Week 9 at York in the final seconds. That, along with seeing Fenwick win a state championship last fall, has motivated this year’s OPRF team.
“The exciting thing about our kids is that they love to play football,” said Hoerster. “Adding the game against Fenwick surely gets their interest spiked. All in all, the energy in practice throughout camp has been really good, and it’s typical of what we see from the kids coming into the season.”
Fenwick lost 30 players from last season’s IHSA Class 5A state champion due to graduation, so the Friars have plenty of holes to fill. But Battaglia is confident about where the program is entering his third season, thanks to the work and development being done at the lower levels by freshman coach Dan O’Keefe and sophomore coach Mark Vruno.
“Our guys are doing a great job going back to work and making a commitment to building something unique for this team and not living off the coattails of the previous team,” he said.
OPRF/Fenwick athletic contests tend to result in intense, raucous environments. Students from both schools turn out in large numbers to support their teams.
“I’m hoping our student bodies have good, competitive fun and do nothing too crazy,” Battaglia said. “There’s a lot of positive energy around this game and I hope that it’s a huge success. Hopefully, we can do this every year.”
“It just makes sense,” said Hoerster. “If things go well — and I have no reason to believe they won’t, it’s a great opportunity for both schools. People have been wanting to see this for a long time, and anything that gets the community excited for football is good for football. It’s a net positive.”
The Huskies and Friars are scheduled to meet Saturday, Aug. 27 at SeatGeek Stadium in Bridgeview, with kickoff set for 9:30 a.m. Ticket information will be announced soon.