The line along the fence had started to take shape before the fourth quarter had ticked away Saturday night, but tradition is tradition.
Before long, the line of Cary-Grove football players would pass by, exchanging high-fives with their fans, not only as a way to celebrate another victory – this time for the right to play for a Class 6A state championship Saturday in Champaign – but also, to say thanks.
The line has formed along the fence for years now, connecting a community with the players who represent it as a sign of both support and camaraderie. For the past four years, G-G senior Ian May and his classmates have had a front-row seat for plenty of Trojans victories – and a few losses, as well. But each game always ends the same way, lined up against the fence.
For May and fellow Trojans’ student super fans, the line is symbolic of the bond that exists between G-G students and a program that will attempt to win its second state title in four seasons. It is a relationship, May says, built on mutual respect and admiration – one that has made his high school football experience meaningful – even though he never has played a down.
But the line along the fence isn’t limited to students. Each week, parents, friends, players from Cary’s Junior Trojans youth football program and other blue-and-white clad supporters greet players as they leave the field. It’s the first thing players do after the traditional on-the-field post-game handshake line with opponents and a celebration players and fans alike will continue after Saturday’s 6A championship game against Crete-Monee.
“As a community as a whole, we’re all in it for state,” May said halfway through Saturday’s 42-21 semifinal win over Lake Forest. “It’s like one whole team – it’s not just players. It’s one whole group.”
For Trojans coach Brad Seaburg – whose kids also are part of the post-game celebration – the post-game high-five line speaks to the message his program tries to instill in players. Not only are the players competing for themselves, but for their community, as well – a message that comes shining through every time his players walk that fence line.
“It shows what our program means to the towns of Cary and to Fox River Grove,” Seaburg said. “Our kids are very aware of the commitment it takes – first on their part – but on all the people who make everything work. From parents, to the teachers at school, it really exemplifies the selfless concept of football.”
While C-G players focus on the hard work required to make a run at a state championship, May and his band of student supporters put in their own Game Day preparations throughout the week. May estimates he and his friends spend between $20 and $30 each week on supplies – filling empty milk jugs with pennies and BB’s for noise-makers, purchasing body paint and clothes for costumes as well as baby powder that is thrown into the air at kickoff of each game.
Throughout the game, student fans rarely leave their feet, chanting and cheering each big play and first down, which often costs them their ability to speak after four quarters of constant yelling. But for seniors such as Casey Snodgrass, it just goes with the territory. Snodgrass and his fellow fans often will go shirtless for Trojans games and successfully have managed not to get sick, despite often cheering into November without the benefit of cold-weather clothes.
“My voice is gone after every game, but it’s all worth it,” Snodgrass said Saturday night. “Like around Wednesday, it will all pop up again. Whenever I come to the game, my voice is going to be gone, but that’s OK.”
Fan support isn’t lost on players, who say they are motivated by the show of support they receive each week. Celebrating immediately after each game by walking along the fence line has been a tradition passed from team to team, but for the Trojans – many of whom exchanged high-fives with players as kids – it never gets old.
Especially in a season like this one.
“It feels good to just give back to those guys,” fullback Kyle Norberg said. “They’ve driven out here (to Lake Forest), they’ve paid to watch us play and they’ve done so much for us – cheering us on, screaming their hearts out, so it feels good to give back, because they’ve done so much for us.”
And although a passing high-five after each game may not seem like a lot, students know Trojans players are genuine with the gesture.
“We know they mean it,” C-G senior Matt Ewert said. “We’ve been here every week and they tell us [thank you] every time. It’s not just like, ‘Thank you’ – they really show us.”
Like a handful of C-G seniors who were on the sidelines in Champaign four years ago for the Trojans’ championship victory, May, Snodgrass and their fellow seniors remember making the 356-mile round-trip trek to Memorial Stadium as freshmen. They remember how excited they were after C-G earned the 2009 state crown with a 34-17 win over Providence Catholic.
But they admit it won’t compare to what they’ll feel with a win Saturday, when they make their final trip as seniors to the fence line.
“It’s been surreal to see what they’ve done and to be a part of it all,” May said. “To cheer them on and get the thank-yous from them every week. It’s just been a great experience.”