In mid-June Sandwich announced it would not be fielding a varsity football team this fall because of low numbers, and this past week a pair of small schools – Fisher and Riverdale – announced on Twitter that they would be doing the same and for the same reason.
That left a few dozen athletic directors scrambling to find opponents to fill the voids. While many have been fortunate to find replacement foes, a handful still are searching, including across state lines.
Marquette Academy, which over the years has experienced many schedule changes because of programs either moving to eight-man, pausing their programs or eliminating the sport completely, was without a Week 9 opponent for only a few hours after Fisher announced it would not play a varsity schedule this fall.
Athletic director Todd Hopkins said the Crusaders have picked up Sherrard for a 7 p.m. road game Oct. 21. The Tigers also were open Week 9 because of Riverdale not having a team.
Sherrard last made the playoffs in 3A in the 2009 season under Jason Kirby, who had moved there after coaching Bureau Valley to a state runner-up finish in the last of four playoff seasons. Since then, Sherrard has posted an 18-72 mark in the past 10 seasons, including a 4-50 record the past five. A member of the Three Rivers Conference Rock Division, the Tigers were 0-9 under coach Brian Johnston last fall.
“This is just a sign of the times,” Marquette coach Tom Jobst said of the Fisher cancellation. “It’s been going on with schools on our schedule for several years now, and every year it gets worse.
“But Sherrard will be a good opponent for us. Traditionally, they were awfully good, but everybody goes through their [down] cycles, and they’re coming out of one now, so it should be a good tough game. … We have a good schedule. There are no easy ones this year, so we’ll have to keep our focus and stay healthy.”
Fieldcrest was to travel to play Fisher in Week 3 for a Heart of Illinois Conference crossover contest. First-year coach Nick Meyers said Wednesday they still are looking for an opponent and obviously would rather play a game than take a forfeit.
Sandwich was to play nonconference games against Aurora Central Catholic and Peotone, then Kishwaukee River/Interstate Eight Blue Division contests against Plano, Richmond-Burton, Johnsburg, Harvard, Rochelle and Marengo with a KR/I8 crossover game to end the regular season against Woodstock North.
According to Aurora Central Catholic AD Scott Fitzgerald, the Chargers now will open the season on the road against Wauconda.
For Peotone, the search to find a replacement for Week 2 stretched to 50 miles southwest of Indianapolis. The Blue Devils will make the 206-mile, 3 1/2-hour trip to Ellettsville, Indiana, to play Edgewood High School, a school Peotone coach Apostolos Tsiamas said more than likely would be a Class 5A school in Illinois.
“It’s not an ideal situation, but with everything some of these kids have been through the past couple of years, we were going to try and do whatever we could to fill that week,” Tsiamas said. “We all – players and coaches – want to play, so hopefully we’ll play well at Rantoul in our season opener, then we’ll prepare like we would any other week, take that long trip, and hopefully come back with a win heading into our (Illinois Central Eight) conference schedule.
“It’s a much bigger school than us, but we did our research and feel it should be a good matchup and a competitive game.”
This will be the third consecutive time Plano will not play longtime rival Sandwich in the “War on 34,″ as the two scheduled contests in 2021 were not played because of COVID-19 issues. The Reapers, coach Rick Ponx said, now will host Westmont in Week 3.
Richmond-Burton still is on the search for a Week 4 foe, while Johnsburg will host Kingdom Prep Lutheran from Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, (which is just a stone’s throw west of Milwaukee) for its homecoming game in Week 5.
Harvard also is on the lookout for an opponent to fill its Week 6 vacancy.
“We are actively looking. Finding [a replacement] opponent for any football season in Illinois is difficult,” Harvard AD Barry Gurvey said in an email. “However, finding out on June 14 (less than eight weeks before the football season officially begins) that you no longer have a Week 6 opponent exacerbates the issue tenfold. Our stance is we would rather play than take a forfeit. Our athletes have been through the pandemic and lost various opportunities due to canceled seasons and contests. We do not intend to continue to cancel games unless we absolutely have to. Our goal is to have a Week 6 opponent in place by the first day of practice. However, we will be patient and we will wait as long as possible before making the decision not to play football on Sept. 30.”
Rochelle coach Kyle Kissack confirmed the Hubs will host Dolton Thornridge in Week 7, while IHSA.org stills lists a Week 8 opponent for Marengo as “to be announced”.
Woodstock North AD David Rose said via email that the Thunder will end their regular season by hosting Chicago Hope Academy.