Danville football team sticks with game plan
DANVILLE — Football players on the state’s top-ranked class 6A football team are preparing for a Friday game just like they’ve done the past three weeks.
There’s one big difference. The District 118 teachers' strike creates the possibility that Danville High School's Big 12 Conference contest at Centennial might not happen. In order to play, school needs to be in session by no later than Friday morning.
“We’re preparing like it’s going to happen,” senior linebacker Justin March said. “We’re mainly focused on playing this game.”
Athletic teams at Danville which have coaches not affiliated with the district can continue practicing. In football, retired coach John Fogleman is in charge and has plenty of assistance.
“Everything’s the same,” senior running back Edward Clark said. “You couldn’t even tell the head coach was gone.”
Practice times have remained the same, 3 p.m., as has the day-to-day routine. On Monday, part of the practice was spent watching film.
“It’s important that we have the same preparations,” March said. “We don’t want to change anything up. We figured if we prepare the same as we have, we’ll have the same outcome every week.”
The Vikings are off to a 3-0 start, a record which is identical to Centennial’s.
Not being in school during the day makes the situation “a little awkward,” Clark said, “but we’re working through it.”
In one respect, March believes strides are being made within the program.
“We’re bonding as a team,” he said. “Normally, if someone is slacking, Coach would pick up on it. We’re all stepping up and telling guys they have to go harder. We want to make sure nobody is slacking.”
Head coach B.J. Luke has not been a part of the Monday or Tuesday practices. He has full confidence in the assistants who are filling the void.
“I have pretty good coaches coaching them,” Luke said. “There are a couple who coached me, two who played for me and one who played with me. All the guys are good football people and the kids trust them.”
Luke said he is “hopeful” a settlement will occur and that Friday’s game will take place as scheduled at 7 p.m. on Friday in Champaign.
“I believe the people involved want to make things work,” Luke said, “and get the kids back in school where they know where they belong. We have pretty good people in Danville. We get a little sidetracked sometimes when talking about negotiations, but they will work hard to make it happen.”
Football, soccer and tennis are the Danville sports that have been able to practice due to the presence of non-district employees in coaching positions. Sports such as cross-country, golf and swimming are ones where the individuals can work out on their own.
“They can and I am sure they are,” Luke said. We have pretty good kids who don’t want to miss a beat. I’m pretty sure they will find a pool or get on a golf course to keep their game sharp.”
The high school’s one sport which must remain inactive is volleyball.
“I feel badly for the volleyball kids,” Luke said. “They have all union coaches and that makes it tough on those kids.”
If a settlement is not reached in time to salvage Friday’s football game, it could create an adverse affect on the team once the postseason arrives.
A forfeit loss, Luke said, would “make a difference in seeds, who hosts the games, do you travel or do you get the nice big crowd in Danville? All that is based on your record and that’s where the wins and losses become important.
“You’re still the same team, but there are some advantages you gain by having an outstanding season that you don’t gain if you are 8-1 or 7-2.”
As athletic director, Luke will be busy once the strike ends. He will attempt to reschedule events such as Tuesday’s postponed soccer match at Mattoon.
“One of the nice things about being in a conference is the conference schools will make every effort to get those things rescheduled,” he said. “You have that capability whereas football is one that is a different animal. You only have a one- or two-day window when you can play. The time clock runs a little differently.”
And, as it continues to count down, Clark remains optimistic.
“Hopefully, teachers and administrators will do the right thing and let us play,” Clark said. “I think by Thursday it should be all over.”