For 18 seasons, Bartlett varsity football home games have started with a 6.5-mile bus ride to Streamwood High School.
This Saturday at noon, the Hawks will host a homecoming game in the truest sense when they walk out of their own school and step onto their own field for the first time.
The on-campus showcase game against East Aurora is designed to kick start a fundraising campaign for a permanent athletic complex.
"It's not a grand opening," Bartlett athletic director Jeff Bral said of the one-time event, "but we're reaching out to show people how great things could be if we got a few bucks from donors for lights, stands and concessions to play at home permanently. Bartlett is a thriving, positive, growing community and I think a lot of people in this town would love to see us have our own site."
The idea of playing home games on campus has been floating around the Bartlett football community for years, but it became a realistic possibility a year ago, Bral said, when Elgin Area School District U-46 agreed to pay for the installation of a new grass surface on a distressed field previously used for freshmen and junior varsity football games, soccer and club lacrosse.
In the meantime, Bartlett hired longtime offensive coordinator Eric Ilich to replace retiring coach Tom Meaney. During the interview process last winter, Ilich expressed his desire to see the school at least take the next step of installing regulation goal posts to replace the rudimentary ones in place.
That statement got the attention of Bartlett booster George Kantzavelos. He convinced the Bartlett Booster Club to fund new goal posts, which were installed in mid-June.
District U-46 eventually delivered on its promise to pay for sod for the new field, but the job of installing it in late June fell to volunteers from the community. Kantzavelos said Bartlett football and soccer players, band members and other students worked side-by-side with U-46 employees and community leaders like Bartlett fire chief Michael Falese, Bartlett Mayor Kevin Walace and U-46 board member Cody Holt to get the job done.
"You know how they say sometimes it takes a village?" Ilich said "Well, this project took the Village of Bartlett."
The next step was the purchase of a new scoreboard with a premium sound system. The Bartlett Boosters paid for half of the $50,000 item. The other half was funded by a donation from the Bartlett Rotary Club. The scoreboard arrived on Sept. 16. Installation was completed Sept. 26.
There will be seating on Saturday for approximately 1,000 fans, Bral said. In addition to the modest 400-seat bleachers already in place, the school will rent a pair of 300-seat bleachers. Parents will sit in the center section. Bartlett students will have their own set of stands in the end zone. Two smaller sets of bleachers for the visiting team will be borrowed from the Streamwood softball field.
Playing on campus should have an energizing effect on the players, according to Ilich. "Defending your turf takes on a whole different meaning when you're actually defending your own turf," he said.
Why has the latest push to bring the Hawks home gained traction whereas previous attempts by the Bartlett community to work with U-46 failed? Bral points to the involvement of Kantzavelos as the go-between.
"George was really the catalyst," Bral said. "He reached out to the district and they really liked him. When things started to get rolling, the district would say 'We'll buy it. Can you install it?' George knows how to get things done. That was the relationship that was always missing."
Kantzavelos, whose title is director of activity complex -- "I'm more like a project manager," he said -- said District U-46 deserves a lot of credit.
"The most exciting thing has been finally getting together with U-46, making headway with them and working as a team to get this done," Kantzavelos said. "Without their help it never would have come to fruition."
Playing Saturday's home game represents the completion of the first phase of a three-phase plan to bring Bartlett's football and soccer teams home for good. Phase II consists of raising funds for the purchase and installation of permanent stands, concessions and new fencing. Phase III includes the installation of lights and a press box.
Kantzavelos said the project was originally estimated to cost between $5 and $6 million but he has found ways to scale the entire cost back to $1 million. "The biggest cost will be for the stands and press box," he said. "But we will not start anything on that field until we have money in hand. We won't be financing anything. We're living within our means and paying for everything up front."
To that end, Bartlett will sell 350 "Founder's bricks" at Saturday's game for $250. Each brick will be engraved with the donor's name and placed in a prominent area for display.
Meanwhile, members of the Bartlett administration will host community business leaders from whom they hope to garner financial support to fund a permanent facility.
"We've gotten to this point thanks to the generosity of the boosters, the rotary club and U-46," Bral said. "Now we need that extra point. I hope in August of next year we're talking about our true grand opening."
Beech patrol: The Jacobs defense got a shot in the arm this week when safety Conrad Beech was cleared to return from injury.
A 6-foot, 190-pound senior who coach Bill Mitz called "our best defensive player," Beech hurt his knee a week before the season opener against Huntley and underwent arthroscopic surgery.
"Our defense will look a lot different against the run with a 190-pound safety coming up and filling," Mitz said. The Golden Eagles allow 198 rushing yards per game.
Offensively, Jacobs (3-3, 3-3 Fox Valley) reverted to its power running game at halftime of a loss at McHenry two weeks ago. In a 43-14 win over Crystal Lake Central last week, the Golden Eagles rushed for 293 yards behind the line of senior Kyle Vega (6-foot-1, 245 pounds), juniors Jimmy Wormsley (6-3, 280), Cade Purifoye (6-3, 210) and Dylan DeMuth (6-2, 215) and sophomore Cade Portell (6-2, 235).
"We went back to some of the stuff we did in the old days and pounded the football and the kids have responded," said Mitz, whose starting lineup against CL Central included 15 juniors and three sophomores. "We haven't given up on throwing the ball, though."
Jacobs senior quarterback Chris Katrenick, a three-year starter committed to Bowling Green, has completed 87 of 184 passes for 1,198 yards and 11 touchdowns with only 3 interceptions.
Lineman factory still producing: Crystal Lake South (2-4, 2-4) has won 2 straight Fox Valley Conference games against Dundee-Crown and Hampshire to keep its playoff hopes alive entering this week's must-win against state-ranked rival Cary-Grove (5-1, 5-1).
The Gators amassed 524 yards last week in a 45-20 victory at Hampshire, thanks in part to a talented but young offensive line that includes sophomore Trevor Keegan (6-6, 290) and freshman Dom Collado (6-3, 290). They join senior guard Connor Buckner (6-2, 190), senior center Mike Walsh (6-1, 260) and junior guard Tommy Atella (5-9, 210).
Keegan already has an offer from Pat Fitzgerald to play collegiately at Northwestern. Collado, likewise, will be highly sought after, according to Crystal Lake South coach Chuck Ahsmann.
Ahsmann should know. He has been part of a CL South coaching staff that developed linemen like 2011 graduate Fahn Cooper, a 2016 fifth-round draft pick of the San Francisco 49ers who is on the practice squad. Other notable linemen produced by CL South include Jake Bernstein (Vanderbilt), Boston Matthews (Toledo) and Eddie Atkinson (Western Illinois).
Last year, Keegan became the first freshman to start on the offensive line in program history. Collado is the second.
"It's just an oddity and I don't expect it to happen again next year unless we have a gigantic eighth-grader I haven't heard about," Ahsmann said. "Being a public school, I think it's luck of the draw. We're fortunate those families moved into the area.
"I feel good about our offense and I'm really happy with our offensive line. They're young, but they've done a great job."