Football season kicked off once again in northern Illinois last Friday night. I dusted off my press pass from the Boone County Journal and made the trek up to Rockton to watch the first game of the season. It’s a long drive up to Hononegah High School; more than 40 miles one way. I like to think of it as practice for when they get into the playoffs come October. The first challenge of the night was to find a place to park. Of course, I found parking on the opposite end of the stadium from the entrance.
I was running late. The booth was out of rosters. No matter; I figured someone would leave one in the stands after the game. I climbed up to the press box and ended up on the roof. The sun was setting and – despite our altitude – we had plenty of bugs keeping us company. There was a ceremony in midfield, a tribute to the coach who led them to their best season in school history. They’re naming the softball field after him. Hononegah High School is home of the Indians and their school song is about as politically incorrect as you can get. I think it’s the theme song for any Indian shown in a Looney Tunes cartoon. The cheerleaders came out along with their “Indian Princess”, a pale young woman with curly blond hair (i.e., not an Indian).
The band came out and they weren’t bad. They hit all the old band favorites. I find it odd they played songs that would have been old when I was in high school. They had Led Zeppelin and Queen; their “newest” song was from Huey Lewis and the News. Of course they played “Hey Baby”. All the schools in the NIC-10 play “Hey Baby”. And they all sing the words.
I wanna know-oh-oh
If you’ll be my girl!”
The first half was less than good if you were a fan of the Belvidere Bucs. I am a fan, though I try to be impartial about it. Frankly, they didn’t have much offense. Their quarterback kept forgetting he wasn’t a fullback. You can only run so many quarterback keepers before the defense takes notice. On the other side, Hononegah burned the Bucs several times with a reverse play that netted them a pair of touchdowns. Still, the score was 21 – 14 at the half. The Bucs had time to come back.
The half time show didn’t go very well. I felt bad for the dance team out at midfield. They sat crouched frozen in the grass for over five minutes, waiting for their music to start. Every so often a note or two would burst forth from the loudspeakers, but would echo off into nothingness. Eventually, the music just started in mid-song. It was a mix tape, so it wasn’t too noticeable. The crowd gave the dancers a big round of applause for being such good sports. The band was running behind as well and ended up playing their last song as the football team was beginning their warm ups on the field. I thought of the song “American Pie” as the band tried to exit gracefully and failed.
Unfortunately, the second half was a rout. Hononegah crushed the Bucs 41 – 14. Belvidere has been one of the top teams in the NIC-10 for over a decade. However, a second high school opened in Belvidere last year. This is the first year students couldn’t choose which school to attend. The team is down to Division 6A. The crowd was definitely smaller at the Rockton game than in years past. However, I have to credit them for sticking it out, watching a game that got very ugly. There is a loyalty to Belvidere crowds I don’t see as much with the Rockford teams. They come and they watch and they stay; long after their own kids have grown up and graduated. They also sing along to the National Anthem. Belvidere’s motto is the City of Murals, but I think it should be “We Sing Along to the National Anthem”. That speaks volumes about the people who populate the town.
It was almost 11:00 by the time I packed up my camera and notebook and made my way down to ground level. I found a program that wasn’t too stained and threw it in my backpack. It was a long drive home and I didn’t feel like writing – well, anything. I have two journalistic edicts from my editor at the Journal: lots of score changes and name as many players as possible. Scores are exciting and the more names I mention, the more kids (and parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles will pick up the paper).
The third rule I made up myself; keep it positive. I see the game with a different perspective as an adult. These are kids performing on a stage at the most vulnerable time in their lives. The Bucs failed Friday night. They failed in a very public way; in front of friends and family and several hundred people who cheered their every mistake. I groaned up on the press box at every mistake they made, but got it out of my system by Monday night so I could write my story.