DeKALB – Barbs and Spartans fans alike roared with excitement Friday night as they jammed into Huskie Stadium to watch their football teams stream onto the field ahead of the 20th annual First National Challenge.
Two decades of raising money for the DeKalb School District 428 and Sycamore School District 427 booster clubs has event organizer and co-founder Gary Evans looking back in gratitude at the estimated $1.2 million raised through community support over the past 20 years.
“It just goes to show what a great place this is to live,” said Evans, who also works as a business development director with First National Bank. “We’ve had over 325 sponsors in these 20 years, and for them to stick with us and support this community year in and year out, and help the boosters to make a difference in our kids’ lives is incredible.”
The 20th annual First National Challenge kicked off at 4 p.m. Friday with family-friendly tailgating, music and bounce houses outside Huskie Stadium. Freshman teams from DeKalb and Sycamore faced off first, and the varsity game between the Barbs and the Spartans kicked off at 7 p.m.
With support from 80 sponsors and more than 6,800 high school football fans in attendance Friday night, the friendly football rivalry raised $50,000, which will be split evenly between the two schools’ booster programs, Evans said.
“It’s just a fantastic opportunity for our kids because we’re able to provide so many things to all of the athletes,” said Carie Schultz, District 428 booster club president, whose daughter, Allison Schultz, is a sophomore on the DeKalb High School dance team.
“We’re big on providing for all of our athletes, so it’s nice to just give us a cushion so that we can provide for everybody,” Schultz said.
Ahead of the varsity game, the crowd-favorite parade of athletes from both schools marched onto the field, followed by the event sponsors and school marching bands. The booster clubs were presented with a giant check by First National Bank.
Jim DuMont is in his first year as president of the District 427 booster club, but has been with the program for three years, and has a sophomore at Sycamore High School, where his older daughter just graduated in the spring.
“It’s a huge benefit for us, obviously,” DuMont said, of the funds that will go to help purchase much-needed items for the Spartans. “It really helps us keep our athletes in good uniforms and equipment.”
Evans said new this year were two special guests of honor: representatives from the Illinois High School Association, who will be returning in November when Huskie Stadium hosts the IHSA state championship game.
Craig Anderson, IHSA executive director, said he was happy to be invited by fellow Friday night football aficionados, and had heard tales of the famed rivalry between DeKalb and Sycamore.
“We’re going to be back here in November so it’s fun to get a preview,” Anderson said. “It’s a beautiful night for Friday night football. We’ve heard a lot about this relationship and this night in particular with the athletes, so it’s fun to be out here and be a part of that.”
With two decades behind him and more still to go, Evans reflected on the first year of the challenge and where he is now.
“The first year we raised exactly $20,000, and only worked on [planning it] for about three weeks,” Evans said. “We knew it was possible to do something bigger, but we had no idea. We’ve been very fortunate to continue on as we have.”