That was fun.
Well, not the final score. That wasn’t so fun for Richards’ football fans.
The Bulldogs were beaten, 34-14, by Batavia Saturday afternoon in the Illinois High School Association Class 6A State Championship game.
Their dreams of a state title were dashed and Batavia won the first football championship in the history of the school. The only other state championship for that school was a state basketball title in 1912. Even with the 101-year gap, that’s still better than the Cubs.
Anyway, what was really special was the atmosphere of the game.
The state championships were held at the University of Illinois in Champaign since 1999 but were moved to DeKalb this year and the two sites will ping-pong back and forth through 2021.
Playing the games at the University of Illinois is pretty cool to a point. Memorial Stadium is historic and big. Way, too big.
You get 5,000 to 10,000 fans at the place and the 60,000-seat old joint swallows them up. Unless you are right in the middle of the crowd, it isn’t all that exciting.
At the 24,000-seat Huskie Stadium, Batavia filled about three quarters of west stands. The town is less than a half hour from DeKalb and there was a drive to bring 10,000 fans to the game. I don’t know if they hit that mark or not — the IHSA didn’t release attendance figures — but there were a lot of people in the stands wearing red and gold.
Richards’ crowd wasn’t too shabby either. The black and gold-clad fans probably filled close to half of the east stands. They, too, had thousands of fans on hand. I’m not sure if they would have brought as many if the game was in Champaign.
Before the game, both fan bases were geeked up and made a ton of noise. I’ve covered quite a few state title games at the U of I and never felt the excitement this intense.
Even with about 10 minutes left in the game and Batavia leading by three touchdowns, the Richards fans were making a racket when the team was on offense.
‘’It was an awesome experience,” Richards junior quarterback Hasam Muhammad Rogers said. “It was a great atmosphere. The emotions were high. The stakes were high. The support we had from our parents, coaches, students and our nation … it was cool to see.”
The IHSA takes a lot of criticism for a lot of its decisions but bringing the state championships up north was a pretty good idea.
An even better idea would have been Toyota Park in Bridgeview, which was considered by some to be a player in this mix. For whatever reason, the local field didn’t make the final destination.
Maybe when the DeKalb-Champaign-DeKalb-Champaign merry-go-round is over in 2021, Toyota Park could get back in the mix.
The place hosts the Chicago Fire and a variety of other events. Jimmy Buffett and his parrot-heads made it their home for a little while. Why not the IHSA?
More Chicago area teams tend to hog up the final slots in Classes 5A to 8A and would bring even bigger crowds if it was held there. This would make the atmosphere even better. Maybe there could even be a sellout or two, especially if Mt. Carmel was still a powerhouse.
I wouldn’t mind seeing a tradeoff of DeKalb and Bridgeview from year to year. Knocking Champaign out of the mix wouldn’t break my heart.
It would be good for our area and good for the Chicago-area fans.
As for the players?
“Wherever they have it, that’s where I want to be,” Rogers said.
Binny’s Beverage Depot in Evergreen Park hosted Blackhawks player Ben Smith Monday night as a part of its grand opening week. Bears legend Mike Ditka was scheduled to appear Wednesday night and another Bears legend, Dan Hampton, is holding court from 1 to 2:30 p.m. Saturday.
It appeared that Smith might be the weak link of the three as far as name recognition but Binny’s officials were happy with the crowd that showed up for him.
Maybe the fact that Smith’s 11th round shootout goal against the Dallas Stars Friday night in a thriller on the road helped bring a few more bodies to Binny’s.