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Members of Glenbard North High School's football team walked into the Neal Hudson gymnasium holding large paper signs for Tuesday afternoon's pep rally, painted with the words "Fremd," "Stevenson," "Maine South" and "Loyola."
It didn't take long for them to start ripping them to shreds, encouraged by a cheering student body and boisterous pep rally leader, longtime Glenbard North teacher and football game public address announcer Don Depa.
"They don't even have lights on their field. They figure the sun always shines. Not for them," Depa said as the players tore apart the Loyola sign.
Then came the last sign — Mt. Carmel — signifying the 10-time state champion from Chicago and opponent Glenbard North will face in Saturday's Class 8A state championship game in Champaign.
"The Panthers are gonna climb the mountain of Mt. Carmel and they're gonna take them down," Depa shouted.
For Glenbard North, the opportunity to play in a state football championship is rare, having last made an appearance in such a game in 2007. And in the school's 45-year history, they've never won a state football championship.
And so it follows that there's extra excitement this week at Glenbard North — where students clad in black and gold roam the hallways, and ribbons of the same school colors adorn trees on the school's Carol Stream campus.
"Everyone is really excited for the game," said Andrew Mulshine, a senior co-captain on the football team. "You can feel the tension around school."
Some 240 students have signed up for a pep bus that will take them from Carol Stream to the game Saturday afternoon at Memorial Stadium on the campus of the University of Illinois. Hundreds of other students and families are expected to drive, and some Glenbard North alumni who attend U of I have also said they plan to be there, Principal John Mensik said.
The school band, cheerleaders and pom team also are making the trip.
And the surrounding community is getting behind the Panthers. Members of the Carol Stream board of trustees all wore Glenbard North T-shirts at Monday's meeting. Trustee Matt McCarthy said Flip Flops Tiki Bar & Grill at 1022 Fountain View Drive will be showing the game live on its large screen at 7 p.m. Saturday.
A similarly festive scene is emerging in Glen Ellyn at Glenbard West, whose football team is playing in the Class 7A state championship at 4 p.m. Saturday. A special send-off for the football team is scheduled at the school at 9:30 a.m. Saturday.
"This is really impressive to have two sister schools make the state finals in very competitive conferences," Superintendent Dave Larson said. "It's a tribute to the quality comprehensive athletic programs."
Mensik is envisioning the perfect Glenbard scenario about 7 p.m. Saturday — at the conclusion of the 7A game and the start of the 8A game.
"It'd be perfect to see Glenbard West leaving the field with one state championship down for Glenbard and another one to go," he said.
Among other DuPage County-area teams, Montini in Lombard will play for the 5A title Saturday and Aurora Christian will play for the 3A title Friday.