Unique playoff traditions for this exclusive group

  • Making the playoffs is certainly special in coach Dave Mills' Wauconda program, where players are awarded special hoodies and playoff patches for their letter jackets.

    Making the playoffs is certainly special in coach Dave Mills' Wauconda program, where players are awarded special hoodies and playoff patches for their letter jackets. Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

Updated 10/29/2015 8:35 PM

Football is the only high school sport in the state of Illinois in which a playoff spot isn't guaranteed.

A basketball team, for instance, could go 0-20 and still make the IHSA state tournament.


In football, six wins in a 9-game season guarantees a playoff spot. Five wins with a healthy amount of playoff points (wins of opponents) sometimes does the trick.

But four wins or fewer, and it's curtains. Turn in your uniforms.

Think about how many football players are done right now after the regular season finales last weekend, sitting at home instead of practicing, moving on to winter sports.

That's why the act of simply making the playoffs, which open throughout the state tonight with first-round action, is such a big deal for football teams in Illinois. It's a benchmark that is celebrated and cherished. It's on the goal board of every team in the state.

A few programs, like Libertyville, try to downplay the achievement and carry on business as usual, so as not to distract from the bigger goals ahead.

"We don't do anything special," Libertyville coach Mike Jones said. "We try to keep it as much like Week 9 as possible."

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But most teams have some kind of special tradition that is associated with earning a playoff berth. Reaching the playoffs may not be an automatic, yearly occurrence, so their coaches like to play up that up.

Here's what happens at the six other schools from the Daily Herald's Lake County coverage area that made the playoffs.


"We have a playoff viewing party (of the IHSA selection show) on Saturday night. We had the party at school this year with food and about 145 players, coaches and parents in attendance.

"Our team will have a playoff picture taken and placed in the 'Hall of Champions.' We design playoff hoodies and give them to each team member and an IHSA playoff patch is given to our players for their lettermen jackets.

"We have a 'Parade of Champions' in which the team will walk through the school led by the school drummers.

"Team dinners are held every week and that goes from two families hosting (during the regular season) to four families hosting because the amount of food is greater, and our linemen love that. We use our lower-level players and coaches to run scout teams." -- Wauconda head coach Dave Mills



"At our first playoff practice, every freshman and sophomore brought up needs to get up in front of the team to introduce themselves as if they were on TV. For example, 'Hello, my name is Jim Smith. I am a 6-foot freshman and play quarterback.' At that time, the team either cheers or boos based on the strength of the performance. If cheered, the kid gets to enter into the team area. If booed, they go to the back of the line and have to try again. Usually, the players with older brothers on the team get booed. Eventually, every member earns his way onto the team.

"At our first playoff team dinner, we have the 'Earned Your Playoff Stripes' ceremony. All players bring their helmets to the dinner, we discuss the importance of the Stevenson playoff tradition, what it means to wear the green and gold and every player gets to put their playoff stripe onto their helmet

because they 'earned their playoff stripes.'

"Also at our first playoff team dinner, all freshmen and sophomores get up in front of the team and sing the school fight song. Once completed successfully, the team gets to fill up their plates and enjoy our awesome team dinner. Players and coaches alike love this time of the year." -- Stevenson coach Bill McNamara


"The only thing we do that is different is divide our best freshmen and sophomores with our junior varsity and actually have them practice what our opponents do. They will practice separate from the varsity and then come over during team time and give us a look." -- Grayslake North coach Steve Wood


"My wife and I always host the entire team at our house for a playoff pairings viewing party. Watching the players' reactions when they see 'Lakes' on TV will never get old. It's such a proud moment for our players, coaches, and families. Each year, we eat the same pizza, watch the same show, but it will never, ever get old." -- Lakes coach Luke Mertens


"We try to get t-shirts that say 'State Playoffs 2015' and have an outline of the state of Illinois on it. When we've made it to the state quarterfinals, we've done patches that the kids can put on their lettermen jackets. We did that in 2001 and 2010.

"We also bring up some underclassmen so that they can get the whole experience. We give them a varsity uniform and they'll get to dress for the games. It's nice to get those guys at least another week of practice.

"For the playoff pairings show, a bunch of our kids and their parents went to Buffalo Wild Wings and got a room there. That was a nice thing for them. Very exciting to see your name (on TV) because that's our No. 1 goal every year." -- Vernon Hills coach Bill Bellecomo


"This year, we're having a 'Senior Purpose Meeting' during practice. I want our seniors to tell us what their purpose is going into the playoffs. This is such a unique time. Anything can happen. There have been 5-4 teams (Warren is 5-4) that have made it to the state finals, so I want them to know that their playing careers can end on their terms if they choose that.

"I felt like we didn't play with a lot of purpose against Lake Zurich (in a Week 9 loss). There's got to be that purpose in the playoffs, that sense of urgency. This could be the last time that a lot of these kids put on their pads. Juniors don't get that. I think seniors do. We want them to understand that this is their moment and that they need to play with a relentless effort to the end." -- Warren coach Bryan McNulty

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