SCHWEIZER: Last weekend’s bustling prep schedule a rewarding one

November 6, 2018

Two days. 27 hours. Over 350 miles. And it was all worth it.

Sports Editor Brock Netter and I have certainly had our share of crammed sports weekends this fall, but not quite like last weekend’s, when I had the pleasure of covering a pair of victorious football teams and dozens of our area’s most well-conditioned student-athletes at the IHSA Cross Country State Finals in Peoria.

Let’s start with Friday when I watched Milford-Cissna Park make plenty of history. Not only did the Bearcats qualify for their first-ever football state championship game, but they became the first team to qualify for the Illinois 8-Man Football Association State Championship game as well with their 56-22 thrashing of Rockford Christian Life.

The Bearcats were a charter member of the I8FA when they hopped on board at the beginning of the calendar year. And while nobody knew quite what to expect in a new league with new rules, it’s safe to say nobody expected the Bearcats, who won a combined three games the past two seasons, to reach the inaugural championship.

“To be honest, no,” quarterback Jared Schunke said when asked if he expected his Bearcats to make this much noise this season. “We’ve had talent throughout my four years here ... but this year, it’s something different.”

After finishing my coverage and leaving the office at 1 a.m. Saturday morning, I was able to recharge for a few hours before waking up at 5:30 a.m. to make the two-hour trip to Peoria.

And again, I got to see our local athletes thrive.

After a season of domination, which included an unblemished record and top-rankings in all sorts of polls, the Central boys cross country team capped their perfect season with a state championship.

And that wasn’t all. Herscher rounded out the top 10 on the girls side and had the area’s highest placing individual in both races (Molly Raymond and Drew Rogers). Several other area individuals and teams ran their best races of the year and had the smiles on their faces to prove it.

What better way to cap off a weekend than a crisp, fall playoff football game? I took the hour trip north to Spring Valley just in time for the kickoff between Hall and Herscher, a game that will go down as an instant classic.

Serving as road underdogs, the Tigers rebounded from an early deficit and held on for a thrilling 17-14 win in a game that went right down to the last play. And it was at that moment, as Tigers on the sidelines spilled out to celebrate with the defense, that I realized I had just witnessed one of the greatest prep sports weekends possible.

Not only were our schools successful, but more importantly, they were radiant. There is not one coach or player that I talked to that didn’t beam me a smile. Not one that wasn’t thrilled just to be there and be on the moment.

My job doesn’t have the most favorable hours. Reporters usually only hear negativity from their readers. A prep sports reporter job title will never disclose glamorous pay. But none of that matters to me.

What matters most is being able to share the stories of the student-athletes our readers root for. The student-athletes our readers raise and support.

Last weekend, I was able to do that for student-athletes from seven schools in our coverage area. And for that reason, I’ll take what I do over anything else.

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