DeKALB – Ask Paul Gleason a question about the team his son plays for and he’ll answer it with pride and substance.
While watching his son, Stephen, play as a junior running back in Williamsville High School’s Class 3A Illinois State Championship game Friday versus Byron High School, Gleason was a proud father waiting to see his son.
Although he was proud to watch his son break free of the defensive line on the way to a touchdown, Paul simply was happy for his son, the team and the town.
“It’s a great experience for the whole community,” said Gleason, who was standing inside the Williamsville tent situated in the Spirit Zone near Huskie Stadium.
He said that having about 700 to 1,000 fans made the 174-mile trek from Williamsville worth the trip.
The Spirit Zone at the corner of Lucinda Avenue and Stadium West Drive near Huskie Stadium is hosting family members and fans of the 16 Illinois high school championship teams this weekend.
Although Gleason knew the team would be good, he didn’t think it would be in the state championship, making this trip that much more special. Stephen scored 19 touchdowns leading up to the championship game, and Gleason said his son’s not even the leading scorer.
“I expected next year’s team to do it,” Gleason said. “I thought we’d make it maybe to the semifinals.”
Gleason said the junior class on the team, which mostly has been together since they were in fourth grade, has lost only one game since fourth grade.
Paul said the team is anchored by its “psycho defense.” The phrase psycho defense is also one of many lining the interior of the Williamsville tent.
Amid the aroma of chili wafting through the tent, Paul said he wished his son “good luck,” and told him he was proud of him.
“It’s something his mom [Gretchen] and I have looked forward to since he was in first grade,” Paul said.
Doug Collins, a Byron High School father, also has been waiting for his son, Dylan, a senior defensive end and tight end, to make it to state.
“We’ve been planning this day for 10 years,” he said. “Since he was in third grade.”
Collins has worked as a coach before and shared tips on how the team needs to play to perform at its peak.
“They just need to control the ball, play solid defense and keep mental errors to a minimum,” Doug said.
Before Dylan left to play with his team, Collins said he told him to set the tempo, play until the whistle blows and that he was proud of him.
The Schulz family, consisting of Amy, Riley and Ryder, dressed in University of Illinois jackets and held a sign that said “Let’s Go Le-Win Panthers,” with “Le-Win,” standing for Lena-Winslow High School. They expressed both happiness to be in DeKalb and pride in seeing their son, Rowen, a freshman defensive end for Lena-Winslow, and his teammates represent the school.
“It’s a pretty amazing experience,” Amy said, adding that because the boys were tight-knit, she was glad to watch them grow as friends and as a team. “It’s a pretty amazing group. ... It’s something to look up to.”
Ryder, 10, said he is anticipating the moment when he gets to bask in the glory of his own state championship chase.
“I am going be here eventually,” he said. “Or at U of I.”
Ryder was referring to the fact that the state championship has been rotating between Urbana-Champaign and DeKalb.
“Why not both?” asked Ryder’s dad, Riley.
“Exactly,” Ryder replied.