DeKALB – For Nancy Korth, Sycamore native and die-hard Spartans fan, a Friday night well spent means getting the whole family together for the annual First National Challenge at Northern Illinois University’s Convocation Center.
Korth, 55, braved the below-zero temperatures Friday to cheer on the home team during the hotly-anticipated conclusion to First National Bank’s annual fundraiser benefiting Sycamore and DeKalb sports booster programs. She brought with her two nieces and their families (“future Spartans,” she said); a nephew and his family; her daughter, a senior at Sycamore High School; and her sister, Sue.
“It’s about supporting Sycamore and their athletics,” Korth said, decked out in black and gold gear, sitting next to Sue, who celebrated her birthday Friday.
Korth and the gang went to Fatty’s Pub and Grille, 1312 W. Lincoln Highway, for Sue’s birthday before coming to enjoy the DeKalb Barbs and Sycamore Spartans girls and boys basketball teams square off.
“The whole family is here,” Sue said, gesturing to her five grandchildren. “It’s like the best night!”
Korth has worked in Sycamore School District 427 for 14 years, first as a teacher and then as a health aide at North Elementary School. Sue spent 36 years teaching first grade, also at North Elementary.
On the other side of the Convocation Center, sitting in the bleachers adorned in orange and black, Jim Collin, 47, and wife Krissy, 47, brought their seventh-grader, Donald, to cheer on the Barbs.
“We just like to come support DeKalb,” Jim said. “We’ve been coming here since the first year [of the challenge].”
The Collins have known each other since they were in sixth grade, and graduated from DeKalb High School in 1989.
Event organizer and co-founder Gary Evans, business development director with First National Bank, said 2,330 people bought tickets for the First National Challenge at the Convocation Center, 1525 W. Lincoln Highway.
Combined with the fundraising revenue from September’s 19th annual DeKalb-Sycamore football face-off at Huskie Stadium, the challenge raised a total of $55,000, which will be split evenly between the two schools’ booster programs.
“This is Year 14 in the Convocation Center for the challenge,” Evans said in a program thanking event sponsors in the Nelson Suite of the Convocation Center. “We had a lot of people put in a lot of work to make this happen. We started back in June, through the football game, and now.”
The basketball challenge received 85 community sponsors, ranging from restaurants like Fatty’s, to NIU and Kishwaukee College, the cities of DeKalb and Sycamore, Prairie View Animal Hospital, police and fire departments from DeKalb and Sycamore, and the Kishwaukee Family YMCA.
“NIU is always happy, whether it’s football or basketball, to welcome the First National Challenge,” NIU President Lisa Freeman said. “I think, given tonight’s weather, we’re all happy that we’re inside.”
Rachelle Barclay, DeKalb School District 428 booster president, and Susan Mizgalski, Sycamore School District 427 booster president, said the money raised throughout the months-long fundraiser is instrumental to the services they can provide to the districts’ sports programs.
“It’s a huge part of our income into our budget every year, and it’s used for uniforms, supplies, equipment,” Mizgalski said. “A lot of [District 427’s] budget goes to coaches, transportation and necessary equipment, so we’re there to provide some of those extras.”
The historic rivalry games between the Barbs and Spartans made for a lively atmosphere at the Convocation Center, with an athlete parade and sponsor recognition ceremony between games.