One of my earliest childhood memories began in the bleachers at Bishop McNamara’s Memorial Field. It had to have been 1996, maybe 1997, and I was there with the rest of my family to watch the Fightin’ Irish under the Friday night lights.
But the football game wasn’t what I remember. I remember playing with Power Rangers toys with my new friends, Mario and Rocco, whose father, Dave, helped my dad coordinate the Fightin’ Irish defense. I’m sure my mom remembers how, later that night, we ventured over to K-Mart to look for the same, mini-sized action figures we spent the game playing with in the bleachers.
I had absolutely no awareness of what I was watching happen on the field that night some 20-odd years ago, but when I was seated just a few rows up of the press box of Memorial Field, which now also features the name of Rich Zinanni Stadium, I couldn’t understand better what I was witnessing.
In the final regular season home game of his hall-of-fame career, Coach Zinanni watched his Irish keep their playoff hopes very much afloat in a 21-point stunner against St. Francis on a night that began with Zinanni making a ceremonious entrance, escorted by a bagpipe player and his family, through a tunnel of current and former players.
Coach Z is one of two local legends calling it quits after this season, joined by Herscher’s Dan Wetzel. When Wetzel takes the home field for one last time Friday night, when the Tigers host Reed-Custer, I’m sure the emotions shown and past memories relived will be just as frequent as they were on Brookmont Boulevard the other night.
Here are the area’s scores from Week 7:
• Andrew 37, Bradley-Bourbonnais 28
• Bishop McNamara 36, St. Francis 15
• Kankakee 46, Bloom 6
• Wilmington 31, Lisle 14
• Reed-Custer 47, Streator 7
• Coal City 28, Peotone 6
• Manteno 7, Herscher 0
• Iroquois West 13, Central 6
• Momence 32, Seneca 26
• Milford-Cissna Park 52, Blue Ridge 14
• Dwight defeated Watseka via forfeit
West side story
For the first time in 15 years, Iroquois West not only defeated nemesis Central but also qualified for a playoff spot, as the Raiders improved to 5-2 on the season with their 13-6 victory.
I’ve tried to keep the updates on the progress at Iroquois West and Reed-Custer, which is now 6-1, through my columns this fall, as well as a now-5-2 Momence team that’s qualified for the postseason for the first time since 2016. For those three communities, the turnaround being witnessed this fall really epitomizes what high school sports are about.
Iroquois West and Momence were joined by Coal City as the three area schools that reached the five-win mark last weekend, joining Kankakee, Wilmington, Reed-Custer and Central as playoff-eligible teams in the area.
Bishop McNamara and Peotone are each a win away from the five wins needed to secure a spot, as both sit at 4-3. Milford-Cissna Park is also 4-3 and winners of three straight as the Bearcats look to make the Top 16 of the Illinois 8-Man Association.
Bradley-Bourbonnais fell to 3-4 after their comeback attempt from a 30-0 halftime deficit came up just short. The Boilermakers have a pair of tough ones, to say the least, hosting Stagg and visiting Lincoln-Way East to close the season. They know they will need to win both, or at least one and hope their four wins can get them in this fall, to make their first postseason appearance since 2016.
If four wins do make it, there still is slight hope for both Manteno and Herscher, the former of which used a goal-line stand as time expired against the latter for a 7-0 win last week, as both teams are 2-5 and need to win out for hope.
With Watseka forfeiting its season and Dwight taking two forfeit losses early in the season, there are essentially 13 area teams with full seasons to try to make the playoffs, and by this time next week, we could be celebrating nine of them having qualified for the postseason with a week to spare.