When the Maine South Hawks lost to Stevenson in the second round of the Illinois State High School football playoffs Saturday, it ended an impressive and historic run. The Hawks had previously won three straight state championships and have played in the title Game 7 of the last 10 years. They haven't lost a conference game in over a decade -- 55 in a row. In the words of Maine South alum Hillary Clinton, Coach Dave Inserra will tell you to have that kind of success, "It takes a village."
"It's a great community to grow up in, hard working, very supportive parents who let us really coach the kids. They know it takes time to run a football program, so they allow us to practice hard. They allow us to keep 'em maybe a little later. Knowing what the expectations are, but, also knowing that the final outcome not just in victories, but, what the kids take out of this," Inserra said.
While the Hawks play in the largest division, the feeling in Park Ridge is more like a small town.
"A lot of people call it Mayberry. It's kind of a throwback, it's a little bit of an island in terms of there's no industry in the town. I'd say every other house has kids growing up in it. It's a great place to raise a family. I was raised here. There's just a really tight knit bond. It's a community of 37,000 and a school of 2600 sometimes it feels smaller than that. But, I think that's also the thing that brings everybody together, that tight core group."
Most championship coaches are wound tighter than a spiral pass, but Inserra makes sure his guys enjoy the ride.
"You get so close to these kids in the off-season. You spend so much time together. We spent about 250 days together, that's a lot of time, a lot of time to make a strong impact on a young man," Inserra said. "You try to teach them the virtues. I grew up with a great family. You got to have fun. Football is a demanding, tough, tenacious sport. When you're spending that much time together, you better enjoy each other."
Although they didn't walk off the field as the victor in their final game Saturday, they will always share a bond, knowing what it means to be a champion.
"It's gonna be tough, I've been playing with some of these kids since second grade," Hawks tailback Paul Preston said. "We'll hang out on the weekends. We'll definitely still hang out; it just won't be the same."
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