As a huge sports fan, I’ve been to my share of high school, college and professional sporting events, but nothing will ever compare to IHSA 6A State Championship game. The atmosphere was absolutely incredible. It is a game that I know I will never forget, and I know the town of Batavia will never forget.
I’ve been lucky enough to experience Batavia football’s journey in two ways. As a junior in high school, I was able to experience the football games from sitting in the dog pound with my best friends. It’s really an awesome thing to be a part of. When the season ended in 2012, all I could look forward to was being in the dog pound again as a senior. I never pictured myself anywhere else but there.
But, that didn’t work out according to plan. Senior year I was given a whole new perspective on everything about the game of football. There is absolutely nothing that compares to being on the sidelines every game. It is one of the most fun places to be. It gives you a completely different view on what goes on. I’ve gotten to know so many people from being on the sidelines, and I have memories from home games that I will always cherish.
I was lucky enough to be included in the pre-game meeting, to hear the coaches and players say a few words before every game. Coach Holm, Coach Gaspari, and Coach Piron always said the perfect thing. They are three of the most inspirational and motivational people I have ever met. There were a few times when Coach Gaspari’s speeches had me tearing up. Coach Kabba and I would just look at each other and shake our heads. No words. Nothing compares to the feeling you get before a game like that, even if you’re not playing.
Being able to travel with the team and be underneath the stadium at state was awesome. NIU has a beautiful facility. Obviously, I was not allowed into the locker room, but I was able to see everything else. The practice field indoors was the nicest one I had ever seen. As I watched the boys toss a ball around in there, it finally hit me that we had made it to state. I had to hold back my tears when we all huddled up for the last time on that practice field. Coach Gaspari once again wowed me with his wise words.
Walking out that hallway at home games is the biggest adrenaline rush. Walking out at away games is just as good. At state, when the team first walked out, the roar of the crowd was ridiculous — 15,000 Batavians cheering all at once for their Bulldogs. For me, it felt awesome, so I can’t imagine how the boys were feeling.
Watching the game from the sidelines is a blast. Every play that goes on is right in front of you. It’s great because you get to take in what the coaches and players say and how they react to the game. It made me really feel like a part of the team. One of my favorite parts was when one of the coaches would say “PASS CALL! TELL EVERYONE!” and the boys would look at me and say, “CLAIRE! PASS CALL!” It was hilarious, and I loved that they included me. I have learned so much more about football from being on the sidelines, and I found myself being more silent and focused than yelling and screaming.
When there were about five minutes left on the clock in the fourth quarter, it hit me that we had just become state champions. Looking around at all the boys' faces, I could see it in their eyes. Their dreams had just come true, and I had been blessed to be a part of it and see it up close. Seeing all those smiles during the trophy presentation was priceless.
It was a quick bus trip from DeKalb back to Batavia, and when we got into downtown, everyone was waiting for us. It’s amazing how the whole town could come together for all of this. The fire trucks escorted us back into town and the cars honked and the people cheered as the buses went by. I was even more surprised when we pulled up to the high school and saw everyone waiting for us there, too.
The block party on River Street featured music, a dance party by some Batavia students, hot chocolate, pizza and even the “self-made man” statue wearing a #78 jersey. The shiny new trophy stayed with the boys throughout the whole night. The party continued afterward, as the Bulldogs were honored during halftime of the Batavia basketball game.
While I will never forget Nov. 30, 2013, I also will never forget the season that lead up to it. It has been an amazing experience, and I’ve been lucky to be a part of it. Coach Piron strongly emphasized to the team that he wanted them to have fun, and that that was the most important thing.
I can tell you, it has been nothing but fun for me.
I’m extremely thankful to Coach Piron for giving me this opportunity and letting me be a part of this every week, but I’d also like to thank the rest of the coaching staff and all of the boys on the team for being so welcoming.
I would like to give a special thanks to Anthony Thielk for telling me that I’ve been a part of the team all year and later mentioning to Coach Piron that I should be given one of the state-championship medals. Those words absolutely made my day, and I’m honored to have been thought of as part of this team.
Congratulations to the Batavia Bulldogs on winning the IHSA 6A State Championship! I will never forget this! ALL IN!