I spent this past Saturday taking in the 4th annual City of Champions Classic down in East St. Louis. I've been able to make two of the last three and have yet to come back not feeling better off for the trip and overall experience.
The City of Champions Classic was the idea of former East St. Louis standout athletes in Dana Howard and Julyon Brown, and was started with the idea of showcasing inner-city athletes on a big stage against some top out of the greater St. Louis area teams.
This past Saturday, the teams consisted of four St. Louis area schools (Soland from St. Louis, Edwardsville along with O'Fallon and host East St. Louis) and two Chicagoland powers in Loyola Academy and Montini Catholic.
Regardless of the results on the field, the event for me remains what is good and what I feel can be missed at times in regards to Illinois prep football.
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From the location to the style of football, the Classic offers a different experience and a different perspective for all involved. Hard to imagine that the players, coaches and fans from two totally backgrounds and locales in this state would ever cross paths in this or any other lifetime. Yet on Saturday they coexisted just fine at Clyde C. Jordan Stadium in East St. Louis, Illinois.
I know what you're thinking here. Why play in East St. Louis? Why drive several hours just to see a few games?
East St. Louis has it's problems, and one drive down State Street on the way to and from the games can be an eye-opening experience. However, several parts of Chicagoland are also experiencing a lot of the same issues as East St. Louis is these days.
When I tell people to go down and experience this annual game, I get some interesting reactions. All I can tell you are my own experiences. From the facility to the fans, to the organizers and the teams, everything at the Classic has been top-notch. I've been treated as well or even better in East St. Louis than I have in many other parts of the state. That's my own personal experience and hopefully that's the same take away for the many coaches, fans and the like from both Montini and Loyola this past Saturday.
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I also can't help but think of how many kids playing IHSA football are missing out on what I feel is one of the biggest educational experiences that IHSA football has to offer.
Back in the day, the IHSA playoffs were seeded — minus any geographical mumbo jumbo involved — and was a true seeding system based on merit alone. An example? If you are Montini Catholic and drew say downstate Springfield Sacred Heart Griffin in the first round, off you go to the opposing school regardless of the distance. As far as I'm concerned, nothing made the playoffs as special as loading up the yellow rockets and heading off to parts unknown. Under the current playoff system? You'll be hard pressed in way too many cases to play anyone more than a few miles away.
I do sadly understand the need to have a more regionalized playoff system, especially in these economic times. Travel costs money, and money no matter where your at in this state is something schools are struggling with more than ever.
Yet for a long and hot day last Saturday with the Gateway Arch in clear view, all of the differences and the problems we as an entire state are all facing just disappeared. We just played football.
How can anyone tell me that kids aren't missing out as part of the educational experience without these type of experiences?
Here's hoping that the City of Champions Classic and even more state-wide events are here to stay.
"Edgy" Tim O'Halloran is a contributor to csnchicago.com for IHSA football and recruiting information. Watch “Edgy” on HS Lites on Wednesdays (on-demand) and Friday/Saturdays (TV; on-demand). Also, visit edgytim.com for in-depth prep football information and analysis.