It’s been a long time since the community of Roxana has been this fired up about the sport of football.
A once proud program had been mired in a series of Groundhog Years, producing losing season after losing season from 2004-2013.
But a 7-2 regular season record propelled the Shells into the playoffs in 2014. Then a 47-21 win over Freeburg last Saturday on the road to open the postseason cemented a home playoff contest at Charlie Raich Field for the first time since 2003. Roxana (8-2) plays Carterville (10-0) at 1 p.m. Saturday at home in a Class 4A battle.
There has been an outpouring of support by the community, rehashing old traditions from a program that reached the playoffs seven out of 10 years in the 1980s, including a second-place finish in 1987 under coaching legend Charlie Raich..
“We haven’t been here in 11 years and the town loves it,” Roxana senior Seth Chester said after rushing for 166 yards and two touchdowns against the Midgets. “You can see Roxana is decorated, and that’s what I love to see. When I was little we didn’t really have that, but now that it’s here I’m cherishing every minute of it.”
Sixth-year head coach Pat Keith added, “I’m very happy for the kids. It’s important for the kids, the coaching staff, the high school, the community. There is great support from the community and the parents and everything. It’s been fun and it’s a very important stepping stone for the future.”
Prior to the showdown at Freeburg in Week 1 of the playoffs, Roxana did its part, decorating parts of town in red and blue — the Shells’ colors.
Light poles were covered in red and blue paper down Central Avenue, the Farm Fresh on Central had a banner in front of it reading, ‘this is Shell territory, you beware,’ and there was even a tailgate party at Rox Arena prior to the Freeburg game.
Sticking with a football tradition, players’ houses were decorated the night before the game, too. Full-length posters with the players’ names on them blanketed the front doors, while streamers filled the trees and other random Shell decorations were crammed in the front yards.
The house decorations are spearheaded by the Roxana cheerleaders, who sneak around the night before game day and glamorize the homes.
Robin Fay, a 1987 graduate of Roxana, remembers the traditions vividly. Her mother, father, husband and mother-in-law are all Roxana alums. Now her daughter Mya Fay is a freshman cheerleader for the Shells and is being groomed as one of the welcomed vandals.
Fay said it’s something that has been passed through generations. Originally done by the pep club, the cheerleaders took up the torch of decorating the houses in the ’80s.
“My mom did it back in 1959,” Fay said of the furbishing duties.
The “Extreme Team,” composed of dedicated moms, put together the tailgate party before making the trek to Freeburg last week.
The football players and their families and friends came out and played bags, hillbilly golf, horseshoes and washers at Rox Arena, surrounded by signs and banners honoring the Shells.
Mike Roper with Gateway DJ donated the entertainment, while Papa John’s, the Subway inside the Wood River Walmart, Duke’s Bakery in Alton and King Louie’s of Wood River donated food.
Seeing Roxana enjoy success in the playoffs again has just been immensely embraced.
“A lot of (Roxana) alumnus’ kids play now, so they’ve really gotten behind it,” Fay said.
Keith definitely enjoys it and understands its importance to his gridders.
“The parents and different people are very supportive of us and I’m very appreciative of everything they’re doing and the kids are enjoying it,” Keith said. “We still have to keep ourselves focused on the football part of it, too, but it’s great. There have been signs put up, team dinners, they had the tailgate for the kids just to try and support them a little bit. Like I said, we still need to make sure we focus on football, but there are pep rallies at school and stuff like that and it’s great for the kids.”
To celebrate the Shells this week, another tailgate has been scheduled at 8 a.m. Saturday at Rox Arena. Roper will be there to donate his DJ services again.
As for the graffiti on the houses, Chester doesn’t mind and neither does anyone else. That’s what tradition is all about.
“That’s football — that’s Roxana Shells’ football,” he said with a grin after the victory in Freeburg. “The town loves it and they want to celebrate and coming out here and getting a win for them means everything for us. We’ve got a home game now and it’s going to be nuts and I’d like to see it.
“I wanted to come back home one more time and play on my home field and now we get to do that and it feels good.”