By Tony Hooker
Potpourri this week
I always enjoy sending the questions to past royalty and seeing their insights into those magical high school nights of days gone by, but sadly this year I was unable to contact one of our past queens. My friend DeDe Allen Eversole, who represented my senior class as queen, lost her battle to the jerk cancer a few years ago. I can only imagine her answers, but I am sure that they would have been full of charm, grace and intelligence, because that’s the person she was. Next month kicks off a pair of fundraisers to battle the demon breast cancer, as the high school will be kicking off Fight Like a Blue Devil, and Fear the Beard VI, a fund raiser I also started in my friend’s honor, will start on October 1 as well. Please consider giving to one of these causes. Heck, consider giving to both! Cancer touches all of us in some way and progress is being made toward finding a cure against this evil. Believe me, 100 percent of all money raised goes to Mills Breast Cancer Center, where in the past it has been used for providing snacks and other things needed to keep breast cancer patients and their families comfortable while they are receiving treatment. I think DeDe would approve because she was always about others and not herself.
On football teams cancelling their seasons
“Over? Did you say it’s over? Nothing’s over until we decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no! And it’s not over now!”
Apparently, the football teams at Sullivan Okaw Valley and Urbana high schools could use a pep talk from that noted Animal House philosopher John Blutarsky, as they’ve both pulled the plug on their 2021 football seasons, citing a lack of available participants. These two schools are just the latest local representation of a nationwide trend that, according to statistica.com, has seen participation in tackle football for all ages drop from 8.4 million athletes in 2006 to 5.1 million in 2019. The main culprit in this decline is the drop in the number of “core” participants, those between the ages of 6-17, over the past decade.
It’s quite the fall from grace for two programs with storied histories on the gridiron. In a 15-year span between 1957 and 1972, Sullivan head coach Bob Calvin racked up a record of 106-32-4. He had an undefeated season (1958) and six different 1 loss campaigns. It’s safe to say that competing in the monstrous Okaw Valley Conference in those days would have steeled his squads for postseason play had there been such a thing. In the 90’s and early 2000’s, coach Jerry Lane also had the Redskins competing as perennial playoff qualifiers, including the 1995 squad which dropped a hard fought 8-2 decision in the quarterfinals to state runner up Central A&M. In contrast, Sullivan-Okaw Valley, as it’s now known, hasn’t won a game since the 2016 season.
Urbana too can look back on a proud history of gridiron success, including a 25-year period under Warren Smith that saw the Tigers win nearly 7 of 10 football games from 1953-1978. Urbana has seen several of its gridiron greats matriculate to the University of Illinois over the years, and former coach Nathan Watson got them to the second round of the IHSA playoffs as recently as 2012, but they too have fallen on hard times in recent years, winning just 6 games over the past 8 seasons.
The reasons why are myriad. First, a few kids decide not to participate in sports in general or in football in particular, (according to statistica.com, participation in boys’ soccer has risen from 391,000 to 459,000 over the past 5 years.) which leads to an unsuccessful season. An unsuccessful season then leads to more kids choosing not to play, and then it snowballs to the point where these two schools are at now. It’s unfortunate for the kids who stuck it out on the team. It’s unfortunate for the kids who play for their opponents, and it’s unfortunate for the coaches who put their blood, sweat and tears into running the team. Unfortunately, there are no easy answers, but I hope that the game that I love can figure it out before it too becomes something we can only reminisce about.
(The views and opinions expressed in the submitted columns are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of The Journal.)