Parents, students and coaches expressed excitement Friday night as high school football returned to Illinois for the first time since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Energy filled the stands at Maine South High School in Park Ridge as parents watched the first home game of the season against Niles West High School.
"It’s nice to get out, be around people, you know, just to see activity," said parent Patrick Tomaszkiewicz.
Maine South football coach Dave Inserra said the past year was challenging for high school athletes across the state, as they weren't able to play because of the pandemic. Many fought to play again and didn’t think this season was going to happen.
“Football in March, that's completely different for us a completely different mindset,” Inserra said. “The challenge has been trying to keep the boys' focus, not just on football, but focus on the team, focus on each other, focus on a goal at the end.”
Sammy Marin, a Maine South senior football player, said he’s trying to make the best of the situation.
“It feels great, a little weird to be out here, it doesn't feel real at all,” he said. “I'm usually getting ready for baseball about now, but it feels great. I’m just happy that we're able to play this year.”
In accordance with Illinois High School Association guidelines, the football team is on a shortened season, playing six games instead of nine with no runs for the championship title.
“Not what we want, but we're going to take full advantage of it, play our best football, improving each week,” Inserra said. “We got goals in mind of championships. It's obviously a different championship this year.”
Players said they know safety is important, and they’re taking all precautions to avoid another shutdown of their season.
“Football is all about the bond that you make with your team the family and the brotherhood, so obviously it's not what everyone wants to have these safety precautions, but we have to do what we have to do,” said senior football player Clay Cichowski.