Monday, September 2, 2013

My madcap high school... opening weekend began innocently enough on Friday afternoon in Batavia, above. But the beautiful late August afternoon soon devolved into something else, like this scene from Seinfeld:

While I don't recall knocking over any old ladies with walkers, I did heed the game's Public Address announcer and made a mad dash a la George Costanza for the parking lot as the menacing black sky from the northwest (?) rapidly overtook the clear sunny one we were enjoying in the first half of the sophomore game.

I sat in my car for the next two hours or so until I learned that the Glenbard North - Batavia game, which I had been anticipating for months and driven two hours to see, would be postponed until the next day.

It certainly wasn't an auspicious beginning to the 2013 season. To say that I was a little disappointed was putting it mildly. (And it only got worse when I found out what a great game it turned out to be.)

As I drove home (and the night wasn't a total loss; I got to watch another episode of Breaking Bad), I couldn't help thinking of a story relayed by T. R. Reid in his fascinating book about Japan, Confucius Lives Next Door: What Living in the East Teaches Us about Living in the West:

Perhaps you've seen the photographs of those shocked, weeping masses of Japanese people listening to their emperor's radio broadcast of August 15, 1945. War-weary, starving, sick, and sad, people dressed in makeshift smocks made from old newspapers sank to their knees and bowed their heads when they heard -- virtually all of them for the first time -- the imperial voice croaking through the static. Hirohito didn't tell his subjects all that had happened: that the Japanese empire had been completely lost, that the Imperial Army and Navy were totally destroyed, that five million Japanese had died, that thirty million had no homes, that every Japanese city was a wreck, that there was virtually nothing left to eat and no intact roads or railroads to deliver food even if there had been some, that once-proud Japan was the most despised nation on earth, that millions around the world had cheered when atomic bombs were dropped on Japanese cities, and that an occupation force of enemy soldiers would soon arrive to run the country. Rather, the emperor set forth the state of things in a classic piece of Japanese understatement: "The situation has developed not necessarily to Japan's advantage."

And that's exactly how I felt: the situation had developed not necessarily to my advantage. But there was always tomorrow. And tomorrow would bring a triple-header at Soldier Field!

I awoke early on Saturday morning and made my way into the city. The first game, Mount Carmel - St. Patrick, was scheduled to begin at 10:00 am. But when I took my seat on the St. Patrick side (might as well root for the underdog), the scene in front of me looked like this:
Obviously, we weren't going to start this game on time either. (Turns out kick-off was delayed for two hours, until about 12:00.)

But I had a chance to take in the doings around me. And St. Patrick, which was beginning its 100th season of football (Wow!), brought a group of students and parents that was clearly psyched for an upset. (I think the P. A. announcer mentioned that the two schools had been playing each other since 1924. Again, wow!)

I also got to talk with a nice man who was visiting Chicago with his young son. He asked me about the teams we were about to see and I explained that Mount Carmel was not only the defending 8A champs, but also had the winningest coach in Illinois history and was loaded with Division I talent. "St. Patrick will give them a game," I told him. "But Mount Carmel should win this one."

That was my attempt at Japanese understatement.

Although the Shamrocks struck first, with a touchdown in the first quarter that was called back, the Caravan won handily, 40-0. I guess the only surprises for me were how long it took Carmel to get to 40 points (with about two minutes remaining in the contest) and St. Patrick's failure to score at all.

But, for what it's worth, I think the Shamrocks are a better team than what they showed on Saturday. I expect them to work out the kinks and finish at 6-3 or 5-4 and make it to the second round of the playoffs.

And Carmel? Well, Carmel's Carmel, the team to beat, the New York Yankees of Illinois high school football. I probably won't see them again until they travel to Loyola on October 5. That's always a good game and both teams could be undefeated by then (if Loyola doesn't lose this weekend to O'Fallon).

The next contest on the docket Saturday was De La Salle - Phillips, which I didn't realize was a bit of a geographical rivalry. I figured this would be the least competitive game of the day, considering the Meteors had Vanderbilt-bound running back Mikale Wilbon and a host of other talented athletes. As for Wendell Phillips Academy High School (who?), the Wildcats are one of those city schools of which I know almost nothing. (Isn't that name, by the way, just a little redundant? Shouldn't it be called Wendell Phillips Academy? Or just Wendell Phillips High School?) In any case, I expected De to win in a walk and settled in for my mid-day nap (it promised to be a long night ahead of me). "Try to keep it down, everybody, will you?"

But the game was a shoot-out! (And I missed the fourth quarter.) While Wilbon looked like the true D-I prospect that he is, and quarterback Shelby Spence played well also, the big surprise (for me, at least) was the quarterback for Phillips, Dewayne Collins. He single-handedly kept the Wildcats in the game, which they were down, 38-21, at the half.

And after intermission, Phillips scored two quick touchdowns in less than a minute to make it 38-35. Looks like we have a game here, sports fans!

So it positively killed me to leave the game early, but I had planned on meeting my sons at Manny's Deli on Roosevelt Road for a quick dinner before the nightcap. Because of the weather all the games were delayed and my carefully-crafted plans were ruined. Oh, well, you know what they say: Man plans and God laughs. Well, God must have been belly-laughing, because the game ended in a 51-48 victory for De La Salle!

But dinner at Manny's was as good as I had expected (I had the beef stew) and we drove back to Soldier Field where we caught the second half of the Division III college game they had slipped in on us.

I sat there kicking myself for missing the end of the De La Salle - Phillips game, thinking, what are the odds there could be another close game?

Good, as it turned out. The finale, St. Rita - Marist, was everything I had hoped. Tommy Mister lived up to his considerable hype and led the Mustangs to a thrilling 28-26 victory over the RedHawks. The St. Rita quarterback reminded me a little of Aaron Bailey, although I think his arm may be even more accurate than the former Bolingbrook star's. Marist, for its part, had the best student section of the day, a sea of red cheering lustily right up until the Mustangs recovered an onside kick in the final seconds of play.

I finally got home at 1:00 (in the morning!) and checked one last time for all the top teams that went down to defeat this weekend: Lyons, Cary-Grove, Maine South, Fremd, Hinsdale Central, Stevenson, Marist, Morris, Glenbard North and Glenbard West. Whoa!

It won't cause me to recalibrate my plans for this weekend, though. I still plan on attending Neuqua Valley at Naperville Central on Friday (good rivalry plus the chance to see Red Hawks' quarterback Jake Kolbe) and Notre Dame at Bartlett on Saturday night (mostly to see Dons' star running back Chris James.)

And as for my much-anticipated BOWG rankings, I'll release them as soon as I have MaxPreps', which should come out tomorrow.

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