For Cary-Grove, Downers Grove North, going downstate is a hidden community enterprise
Trojans of the world, unite.
It takes a village to support a high school football team's downstate bid, an achievement both the Cary-Grove Trojans and the Downers Grove North Trojans have accomplished.
Cary-Grove plays East St. Louis in a battle of 11-2 teams for the Class 6A championship, 1 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 25, at Illinois State's Hancock Stadium in Normal.
Downers Grove North (11-2) plays Mt. Carmel (12-1) following that game in the Class 7A championship at 4 p.m.
It's the culmination of a season as well as the youth football opportunities of seniors such as Illinois High School Football Coaches Association first-team all-state selections Andrew Prio of Cary-Grove and Cael Brezina of Downers North.
It means a whole lot for everyone in and outside of school who has supported all of the players and coaches on these teams.
It's there in the purple Downers Grove North flags outside numerous businesses down Main Street, courtesy of the DGN Booster Club. And in the far northwest suburbs, on the big "Go Trojans" sign now plastered over the Fox River Grove sign welcoming folks into town.
"When something like this happens, everyone in the area who has been supporting these kids since they were little comes together. And what you feel, is this is all of us," said Denise Kavanaugh, in her last year as Downers Grove North athletic director. In her first year the Trojans won the 2004 Class 8A title.
Five buses will pull out of Cary-Grove High School loaded with cheerleaders, the dance squad, color guard, marching band and fans.
"We also have many of our administrators there," said Cary-Grove Principal Rebecca Saffert. "Our superintendent (Neil Lesinski) will also be there. Also there will be a lot of staff members there."
Under fire department escort, at 11 a.m. Friday buses will take than 100 Cary-Grove football players, coaches, managers and supporting cast members like trainer Cindy Hernandez, who will tape players before an afternoon practice and provide any treatments afterward.
Normal is the third championship site after Champaign and DeKalb for Cary-Grove coach Brad Seaburg, who seeks his third state title in his fifth title-game appearance.
These trips are never really the same.
"Once you reach about the quarterfinals you really have to start forward-planning," Seaburg said. "Not that you're taking anything for granted, it's just how it has to be. We have a layout of things that have been done and you have to tweak plans a little bit year to year."
He's got a feather in his cap with Trojans offensive line coach Mike Manning, the program's logistics guru who deals with everything from hotels and practice locations to coordinating with the "Football Moms" for snacks and drinks on the bus.
"It's just so many logistical pieces that it does take the community and unbelievable support to get these things done," said Cary-Grove athletic director Ryan Ludwig, who has changed other school sports schedules so students may attend the football game.
Parental support obviously is crucial. On Thursday a group of Downers Grove North football parents will prepare a Thanksgiving feast for the team after a morning practice. That's dinner for 90 - about the same number enrolled in Trojans coach Joe Horeni's "Mom 101" football class this season.
"It's a pretty good idea for the boys to sit and be thankful for where they're at right now," said Downers Grove North Booster Club President Bethany Keown. In two years she has led an $80,000 fundraising effort through football concessions and spirit wear alone to help support the school's 29 athletic programs.
Keown has a son, Griffin, a 2023 graduate and two-year offensive lineman. These championship contenders are rife with connections, be it every past DGN Trojan who laughed along with 49-year assistant coach Bill Kleckner or junior defensive lineman Joe Edwards, whose brother is Buffalo Bills guard David Edwards, a Super Bowl winner with the Los Angeles Rams and a former Trojans quarterback.
The alumni will come - "we have some of the biggest fan groups" at state, Cary-Grove's Saffert said - and so will the students.
Alex Miller, leader of Downers Grove North's "N Zone" student cheering section, 400 strong at home games, plays forward on the varsity basketball team, but he will be there in Normal.
Miller takes his job supporting the Trojans seriously.
"For the state semifinal game we tried to get the entire student section to do the Florida State chant. It worked pretty well, but I think it could have been better," he said.
"So for this final game, we should be able to do it really well, which we hope ignites a spark to push the team to finish strong."