No one becomes a champion on their own.
Yes, winners compete and work to improve their game, and they make many personal sacrifices. But in the end, they share their success with several people who helped them along the way.
That is surely the case with the newly crowned high school football state champions, all of whom hail from northern Illinois.
Congratulations to new state champions Lockport (8A), Wheaton North (7A), Cary-Grove (6A), Fenwick (5A), Joliet Catholic (4A), Byron (3A), Wilmington (2A), Lena-Winslow (1A) and Polo, winner of the small school 8-man football crown. These are teams who won despite major obstacles presented by having to train, practice and compete during a pandemic. For that alone they deserve our praise.
Our team of Shaw Local News Network sports reporters, editors and photographers chronicled these winners throughout the challenging season. Here are some of the behind-the-scenes tales they have to share.
Cary-Grove running back Nick Hissong suffered a serious knee injury during the championship game against East St. Louis. Pain didn’t stop him from attending the postgame press conference with his teammates after gaining 224 yards on 32 carries.
Hissong was on crutches during the community celebration on Sunday.
Joliet Catholic won its 15th state championship, a state record.
It was the second state championship for JCA with coach Jake Jaworski at the helm, but assistant coach Dave Douglas has had a hand in almost all 15 of those titles.
Douglas is a 1975 graduate of the school and he missed being a part of JCA’s string of championships from 1975-1979 while he was in college. But he’s been there for all the other championships.
Douglas was inducted into the Illinois High School Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame last summer.
Wilmington won its second state championship and has built a small school program powerhouse under the leadership of Jeff Reents.
His staff has seen few changes over the course of his tenure, 29 years, and that staff believes heavily in the running game.
Wilmington became the fifth team in state history to win a state championship without attempting a pass. Wilmington attempted only 13 passes all season.
Wilmington’s future success may still come, but one of the core group of coaches, Rob Murphy, is retiring at the conclusion of the school year.
Cary-Grove football coach Brad Seaburg was blown away during the championship game when he looked into the stands and saw all the former players and parents there to support the Trojans.
Seaburg talked about that at the C-G celebration on Sunday. C-G was playing in its sixth championship game and is now 3-3, with 6A titles in 2018 and 2021. In 2018, C-G fans wore “Today’s the Day” shirts to the game and the players wore them to celebration the next day. C-G had those same shirts again last weekend. Those are words that former coach Bruce Kay liked to use. This year the fans had navy shirts and the players wore white shirts to the celebration.
What comes around goes around.
Ben McDonald, quarterback of Cary-Grove’s 2018 championship team and now a student at Missouri, was at the game with other C-G friends, three of whom also attend Missouri. They watched their team win the state title and got a preview of East St. Louis wide receiver Luther Burden III, who will play at Mizzou next year.
Lockport head coach George Czart was an assistant coach at Lockport when the school won back-to-back titles in 2002 and 2003.
He left to take the head coaching job in 2008 at a new school, Lincoln-Way North, and built the program over eight seasons before the school closed in 2016.
Despite leading the school to a semifinal and quarterfinal appearance in two of the last three years at Lincoln-Way North, he didn’t get another head coaching job and took an assistant’s post at Lincoln-Way West.
After Lockport bottomed out in 2018 with an 0-9 record, Czart returned to Lockport and led the program to a crown in just three years, which was actually more like two and half with the 2021 COVID-19 spring season accounting for the 2020 season.
These are champions, all representing jubilant schools, classmates, families, friends and fans. Congratulations to you all.
And they join a list of other important people in all of our schools, from those who play other sports or compete on the debate team, to those in academic clubs as well as drama, music and band, among other activities.
It takes a lot of dedication, time and effort from the students, staff and parents, but they don’t get nearly the same attention as the football champions.
This involvement enhances the high school experience far beyond the classroom. As we said above, no one becomes a champion on their own.