For the first time since 1992, the football field next to Madison Community High School got used on Saturday.
And the town loved it.
Support came out in droves as the co-op football team between Madison and Metro East Lutheran battled Bunker Hill in their Prairie State Conference opener at MCHS on Saturday. Unfortunately, the first prep grid game there in 23 years ended in a 20-0 loss, but it didn’t stop the buzz around the festivities.
“There are a lot of Madison alums here and we’ve got great support from the community,” Madison athletics director Jaime Cotto said. “This is awesome. It’s an awesome feeling.”
The two programs announced they would co-op after the conclusion of the 2014-15 prep school year. It was uncharted territory with a parochial school and public school teaming up and then the decision was made to test out playing one regular season game at Madison and football was back to a starved community. MELHS plays on the road at South Fork in Week 4 and will play the remainder of its home games this season on Metro’s campus in Edwardsville.
Running back Maulik Allen, a senior at Madison, who rushed for 66 yards in Saturday’s loss, understood the historical significance of the game at his school. Allen would have liked to see better results, but it didn’t dampen the day of football.
“We’ve been talking about it for awhile, actually,” Allen said. “People have been telling us how long it’s been since we’ve been able to step on the field and play a game of football. It’s been 23 years — that’s a long time not to be able to come out here and play. We had fun. We lost, but we’ve just got to keep putting in work and make up for the mistakes and fix them.”
Head football coach Matt Tschudy said the support has been overwhelming and making history for both schools on Saturday was a rewarding feeling. Tschudy is in his second stint as head coach of the Knights and he also coached the first Friday night game under the lights at MELHS. Overall it’s about the play on the field, but Tschudy revels in being a part of school history also.
“It’s important to me to be able to coach those games, but I’ve tried to never make it about myself,” Tschudy said. “I want to make it about the players and let them realize how special a moment it is. Under the lights, that was against Missouri Military and that was a special game and now this game, first one at Madison with the co-op, that’s a special game. My hope is that they realize how cool this is and 10 years from now they can tell their kids that they got to be part of this.”
And the support from both the fan bases at MELHS and Madison was overwhelming. Representatives from both communities stood side by side to cheer on their Knights on Saturday.
“It’s a great atmosphere and I love seeing everybody come out and watch the game,” said Metro athletics director Rob Stock, who also ran the clock on Saturday. “The facilities are great here. The whole community did a great job of getting the field ready and the crowds came out and that’s awesome to see. It’s the first football game here in 23 years and people are excited.”
The Knights only trailed 6-0 at halftime and played well, especially on defense, in the first half. An interception and 47-yard return by Jerry Watson Jr. highlighted the opening half for MELHS. Unfortunately, Bunker Hill scored 14 unanswered points in the second half to pull out a 20-0 win. The Minutemen are 3-0 on the young season, while the Knights are 0-3, but Allen believes the team chemistry is there and success is only a matter of time.
“From the first day, up to this day, I feel like we’ve made an enormous amount of progress,” Allen said. “We found out who goes where and we just have to keep on clicking on offense and defense and special teams. We’ve all got to stay on the same page and get us some Ws down the road.”
From painting goal posts, to mowing the grass, lining the field and just creating the co-op team in general, there is a laundry list of people to commend on bringing it all together. Tschudy appreciates everyone involved to allow this football team to exist.
“There are an outrageous amount of people to thank,” he said. “Obviously people from both schools, administrators, teachers, faculties, parents. We’ve got a ton of sponsors from the Madison community and the Edwardsville community who are donating money to help us pay for equipment and stuff like that. Everyone has been outrageously supportive, which is great.”
The finishing touch to the game and the field was installed on Sept. 8, when the scoreboard donated by Columbia High School went in the ground. Cotto joked there was an unforeseen benefit from the scoreboard, too, that put the exclamation point on the festivities.
“That was donated by Columbia, which is interesting since they’re blue, it’s ironic that their scoreboard matched our color — green,” Cotto said with a smile. “That was awesome.”
The seed is planted for excitement for football at Madison and MELHS with Saturday’s success. A two-year commitment between the two teams promises pigskin play for the Knights, but Cotto is confident there is more to come.
“Hopefully it brings more excitement and more players for Metro and we’ll build also more players from here at Madison.”
And they won’t have to wait 23 years to play another football game at MCHS.