From exultation to despair.
That time-honored phrase was probably never so appropriate than when used to describe the paradoxical events that occurred last weekend in Washington, Illinois.
The heights of joy were perhaps never greater than when the Washington Community High School (WCHS) football team soundly defeated Normal University High School, 41-7, on Saturday, November 16 to advance to an Illinois High School Association (IHSA) Class 5A semifinal game with top-seeded Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin.
It had been 28 years since the 12-0 Panthers had last advanced to that playoff round – long before the players were even born. As such, the cause for their great celebration was more than understandable.
However, that joyous feeling went abjectly sour less than 24 hours later when a massive EF-4 tornado with winds of 170 to 190 miles per hour ripped through Washington, leveling everything in its path. More than 400 homes were damaged or destroyed, including the homes of seven WCHS football players, coaches and teachers. In addition to mere physical damage to buildings, the human element was also was tragically scathed, as 120 people were injured and one person died from the horrific tornado.
While it probably would be easiest to simply throw in the towel and feel sorry for themselves, several members of the WCHS football coaching staff and players instead did a very remarkable and selfless thing.
Those individuals banded together, lifted themselves up by the bootstraps, and did everything they could to clean up the community that 15,410 tight-knit denizens have long called “home.”
Under the direction of WCHS head football coach Darrell Kroch, on Monday, November 18, that steadfast group dug the community out of the debris, piled up the resulting tons of garbage, and generally cleaned up everything in sight.
Making the story even more remarkable is the fact that members of both the team that WCHS defeated (University) and the team that it will now play in the upcoming semifinals (Sacred Heart-Griffin) have joined in the effort to assist the devastated Washington community.
Taking into consideration the fact that many of the Washington vehicles are either destroyed or inaccessible, Sacred Heart-Griffin will provide two charter buses to transport Washington fans to the November 23 semifinal game in Springfield. In addition, Sacred Heart-Griffin will feed both the WCHS team and the fans, and has organized other fundraisers and drives associated with the game to help their opponent.
And responding to the fact that WCHS’ home field is no longer practice-worthy, the University High School football program invited the Panthers to Normal, providing them full access to top-flight athletic facilities at Illinois State University. In addition, they gave them some new clothes, and provided them a lunch at ISU’s Horton Field House that not only nourished their bodies, but their souls as well.
Under the leadership of Executive Director Marty Hickman, the IHSA has also become involved, as it will donate $1.00 for each ticket sold at the Washington-Sacred Heart-Griffin game to the American Red Cross’ relief effort for this disaster.
While sports are indeed an integral part of the high school experience and friendly rivalries are a component of that dynamic, through their many acts of humanity, these three schools, the IHSA and many others have selflessly helped their fellow man by lifting the Washington, Illinois community out of the ashes of despair. And as a result, everyone is clearly the better for it.
The contest, scheduled for 1:00 p.m. on November 23 at Sacred Heart Griffin’s campus in Springfield, will be aired live by Comcast SportsNet Chicago, Springfield’s WCIX and WAOE & WYZZ in Peoria. Click here to watch the game on the NFHS Network. Viewers are encouraged to use the hashtag #TeamIL in social media to help raise awareness.