Rettke: A place for extraordinary players in extraordinary times

It’s hard to believe it’s been two whole years since DeKalb County last welcomed thousands of eager spectators and 16 high school football teams to face off at Brigham Field at Huskie Stadium.

So much has happened since we last hosted the 2019 IHSA Football State Championships. On Friday and Saturday, the games will return to our community, marking the fifth time players, coaches, families and their supporters have trekked to DeKalb County to celebrate young athletes, cheer on teams and get a taste of what life in DeKalb is all about.

It’s been a strange year and a half for these hardworking athletes. COVID-19 wiped out the 2020 fall season, and teams have played a shortened spring season and this fall’s season with the pandemic and its protocols still hanging over them.

To that end, everyone has worked really hard to make this weekend happen.

Although DeKalb County’s five high school football teams just missed the cutoff for the championship games this year, the players’ efforts (as with all the teams) deserve an extra round of applause. To the players: You’ve faced extraordinary circumstances unlike any other teams before you. You’ve left your best efforts on the field. It takes a grueling amount of dedication and force of will to be an elite high school football player, and with the added lens of the pandemic, you’ve already exceeded all expectations. You should be proud.

To the coaches: You’ve mentored, trudged on despite quarantines and COVID-19 testing, navigated pandemic-era practices and led your teams through to this week. Parents deserve equal accolades, as you’ve cheered your children on through the weight of the year’s challenges. We hope you enjoy yourself here in DeKalb.

In preparation for this weekend, local volunteers and organizers have worked tirelessly and around the clock to ensure we’re ready to welcome neighbors to our college-town suburbs. The DeKalb area gets a chance to show off its hospitality, local restaurants will feed the masses, and crowds will get a chance to walk through the grounds of Northern Illinois University, a pillar in our community.

It’s a strange world we live in these days, and many businesses, even while enduring staffing shortages, have been preparing around the clock to ensure guests experience the best DeKalb has to offer. Let’s show them a little love.

That includes our committed team who work our 24/7 prep football website, FridayNightDrive.com. Live coverage of every game, photos, video, pregame analysis and more awaits football fans at that website. Access to FridayNightDrive.com is available for any Shaw Local subscriber, and if you want to see what all the fuss is about, head to www.shawlocal.com/friday-night-drive/subscribe/.

If you’re visiting DeKalb from far (or near) away this weekend, welcome.

Need a list of local eateries to choose from? Head to cityofdekalb.com/foodie for a complete restaurant guide.

If you’re not sure where to find parking at Huskie Stadium or a list of what you’re allowed to bring inside, head to ihsadestinationdekalb.com, which includes maps, directions to the stadium and any other information you might need to navigate your stay.

The weekend’s success is due to the collaboration of a great many local organizers from the City of DeKalb, NIU, the DeKalb County Convention and Visitors Bureau, the IHSA Destination DeKalb Host Committee and other local sponsors.

It’s not too late to volunteer either, if you’re 18 or older and out of high school. To check out the options, go to ihsadestinationdekalb.com/volunteer/.

Festivities wouldn’t be possible this weekend without the massive efforts of a lot of community volunteers who work ticket booths, parking lots, as ushers and in the tailgate area, the Spirit Zone. Each team gets its own tailgate tent in the Spirit Zone. Non-football players can get in on the awards, too, with accolades given for most spirited fans, and performances by cheer and dance teams, and bands.

It’s a bit of an understatement to say it’s been a rough year-and-a-half for so many of these Illinois athletes. Go and watch them play, cheer on your teams, enjoy a weekend with friends and family. At $15 a ticket, it’s a pretty great way to unwind and witness the birth of some of these athlete’s collegiate or maybe even pro careers.

In extraordinary times, it’s taken extraordinary efforts for teams to make it to Huskie Stadium in 2021. The pages of this section tell their stories, and we hope you read along with us.

Kelsey Rettke

Kelsey Rettke

Kelsey Rettke is the editor of the Daily Chronicle, part of Shaw Media and DeKalb County's only daily newspaper devoted to local news, crime and courts, government, business, sports and community coverage. Kelsey also covers breaking news for Shaw Media Local News Network.