Forest View's magical run stands the test of time
To call Forest View's 1985 football season a Cinderella story would not be completely accurate.
The Falcons were not fitted with the ultimate prize and there was no happily ever after for a school whose days were about to strike midnight.
So, let's leave it to four of the people right in the middle of it to characterize what happened during that fall 30 years ago where the Falcons soared once more.
"I keep going back to the story (longtime Herald prep guru) Bob Frisk wrote about us, that it was a fairy tale," said Ron Kiolbassa, the junior quarterback.
"It was almost like one of those stories that was too good to be true," said Tom O'Malley, the junior linebacker and tight end.
"It was magical," said Brad Quast, the senior linebacker and running back who would become a star at Iowa.
"That was such a fairy tale," said Fred Lussow, one of the Mid-Suburban League's most successful football coaches. "It's a shame we couldn't take it all the way and win. That would have been one for all time."
Hollywood probably would have taken that script and tossed it aside.
Still, just having that final chance to play for a state championship put the spotlight on the Arlington Heights high school that would be closing after just 24 years in existence.
The school and communities rallied around the perfect slogan -- BYE (Best Year Ever) -- for a team that became only the second in MSL history at that time to win a state football trophy.
"The school spirit for a conglomeration of people from all over," Lussow said of a school that drew students from Arlington Heights, Mount Prospect and Des Plaines. "It was a little bit of an underdog school anyway and it was fantastic how everybody pulled together."
That was exemplified by a team that even celebrated losing in one of the most bizarre endings to a football game. That helped set up a fantastic finish in the Falcons' final football game on their home field.
And the trophy they came home with from the Class 5A state championship game, which went potentially from a trash heap to a treasured memento, is another intriguing twist to the story.
School's out forever
After Ron Kiolbassa finished seventh grade, he had to switch to Holmes Junior High because Dempster Junior High was closing.
"Not knowing that a few years later the same sort of deal would happen," said Kiolbassa, who is now an associate principal at Hersey.
In the mid-1980s, District 214 was the largest in the state but the enrollment was plummeting from its peak of nearly 20,000 students. That led to the emotional and controversial closing in 1984 of Arlington, the most recognizable but also oldest of the district's eight high schools.
Another 214 school was destined for a similar fate less than two years after Arlington's demise. In June of 1985 it was announced it would be Forest View, because of its location and the fact it didn't get any students from Arlington who would have to be displaced again by another closing.
"I remember there was a buzz about it but our whole mindset was, 'There is no way they'll close Forest View,'" O'Malley said. "They had just completed this massive fieldhouse. Everyone was kind of shell-shocked."
That was the backdrop when the preseason began. The Falcons were coming off a 5-4 season with an influx of juniors from a division championship team.
"The junior and senior class were really a close group of guys," Kiolbassa said. "We all came through the ranks of Mount Prospect midget football and little league teams.
"We were really close and respected one another. It was a fun group of guys to be around and Fred and the coaching staff made it fun to be there."
Lussow was entering his 13th year as Forest View's head coach and his 1978 team had lost to Buffalo Grove in the 5A semifinals. Kiolbassa, who played at Butler and also coached in college, called Lussow "one of the best in-game coaches I've ever been around."
Lussow had his right-hand man, Ted Wissen, to run the defense. Kiolbassa and O'Malley raved about assistant Bill Niedbala's ability to motivate. Bob Henderson would go on to become a head coach at Elk Grove and Dave Theesfeld made the Illinois High School Football Coaches Hall of Fame.
"The coaches did a great job of keeping us really focused and we came out prepared and worked hard," Quast said. "Everybody on the team worked really hard."
Quast was the centerpiece as he not only played but looked the part of a big-time college prospect at 6-foot-1, 225 pounds. He was a two-time all-Big Ten linebacker at Iowa, but injuries he suffered trying to make the Jets and Eagles derailed his NFL hopes.
"When you have (legendary Michigan coach) Bo Schembechler watching practice, that's kind of neat," O'Malley said. "We kind of knew this was it for the rest of us. It's now or never. The school closing added to that feeling."
The offense had balance with the strong-armed Kiolbassa throwing for more than 1,300 yards and speedy junior Dan Bazar rushing for more than 1,100. And it was a group filled with tough and smart competitors like O'Malley, Dave Eddy, Jeff Prince, Jackie Smith, Brian McCarthy and Scotty Miller. Dennis Kutrovacz and Scotty Wadas typified a group of linemen that were small of stature but big on heart.
"In all of the years I've coached, a bunch of little kids, I'll take them any day on a high school team," Lussow said.
But playing into late November was not an expectation in what could be regarded as the golden era for MSL football. The playoffs had just expanded, but it still took a minimum of 6 wins for Forest View, Buffalo Grove, Conant, Schaumburg, Hersey and Wheeling to make the 192-team field.
Buffalo Grove and Hersey would go on to win state titles the next two seasons. All of the coaches who won at least 100 games in MSL history were either leading, assisting or playing for a program in the league in that era.
"Going to state was the furthest thing from anyone's thought process," O'Malley said. "During two-a-days, there were a lot of juniors starting and you wondered how this was going to turn out."
Better than any of them could have ever imagined.
The final run gains momentum
Forest View did not have an easy opener against a Maine South program that would launch its drive to state prominence by winning its first playoff game that season. The Falcons were losing, struggling to move the ball and Quast was out with a muscle cramp.
That's when Lussow turned to what Kiolbassa said was an amazing ability to draw up plays the way kids do in the backyard.
"Late in the second quarter I'm going through my imaginary playbook and thinking what are we going to do," Lussow said. "Let's try a middle screen to Jackie Smith. He split time at fullback with Brad and Jack was really a good athlete with a lot of skill.
"I wasn't even watching, but I look up, we complete it and he scores and now we're back in the game."
They won 14-7 and shut out Prospect the next week. A teacher's strike prevented a much-anticipated matchup with perennial power Wheaton North and future NFL quarterback Kent Graham, but Forest View picked up a game and shutout against Proviso West and slipped past Hoffman Estates 6-3 in overtime.
"You start thinking, 'We're actually pretty good here,'" O'Malley said.
And the success, combined with the story, fueled a wave of enthusiasm for the Falcons that ranged from regular pep rallies to police escorts to and from games.
"You felt the momentum of everybody, from the faculty to the student body, rallying around the football team," Quast said.
"Once we got into the year we sort of played on that," Kiolbassa said of the BYE theme.
They beat Elk Grove and then edged a tough Conant team 14-7 to improve to 6-0.
"The only thing that can stop us is us," Lussow was quoted as shouting to his team in the locker room afterward. "We're going downstate."
Little did Lussow know just how oddly prophetic he would be on both counts.
Bizarre to Bazar endings
If, in the words of the immortal Bear Bryant, a tie is like kissing your sister, then how do you characterize playing to lose?
That was precisely the scenario Fred Lussow encountered when the Falcons, who had not lost in their first seven games, visited Schaumburg on a gray Saturday afternoon.
Under the current playoff system, Forest View would have already secured a spot in a 256-team field. But in 1985, the six-class field had just been expanded from 96 to 192 teams. There was also the potential for a three-way tie for the MSL South title with the Falcons, Saxons and Conant that would require a point-differential tiebreaker to determine who would be designated as the conference champion by the IHSA.
If it did end in a three-way tie, and if Forest View lost to Schaumburg by 7 points or less, it would get the champion's designation for the playoffs. Lussow believed that could lead to a more favorable matchup to start the postseason.
"We actually talked about it in a meeting leading up to that week," Lussow said.
Naturally, the two teams were tied 9-9 after regulation. The Saxons got the ball first in overtime and quarterback Paul Justin, who was drafted by the Bears in 1991 and played 34 games with the Colts, Bengals and Rams from 1995-2001, fired a touchdown pass. Taking the tiebreaker into consideration, they went for the 2-point conversion pass and Justin hit on that pass for an 8-point lead.
Now Lussow faced the exact scenario he envisioned. After three running plays were stopped short, Prince came out and lined up for a field goal. A 5-yard penalty pushed back the kick to a 30-yarder, but the left-footed Prince drilled it through the uprights.
And Forest View's players were literally celebrating a 17-12 loss.
"When you see the reaction, 'Hey we lost, but we're all jumping up and down,' that's one of the strangest things," O'Malley said.
"That whole season was bizarre," Lussow laughed. "No one was quite sure what happened. I don't think you'll ever see that again."
The division did end in a three-way tie but it turned out there was no benefit for being a conference champ as the 8-1 Falcons opened the postseason against 8-1 MSL North champion Wheeling. Back when playoff openers were on Wednesdays, they rolled to a 37-14 victory as Bazar rushed for 190 yards and Kiolbassa threw 3 touchdown passes.
Three days later they came back to face Hersey and Lussow said a play by Eddy at the end of that 13-7 victory typified the Falcons.
"We had some really good skill kids and kids who had football savvy," Lussow said. "Hersey ran a flea flicker on the last play and a kid was running down the sideline with a blocker. The nearest defender was Eddy and he had enough sense and gumption to push the blocker into the ball carrier and knock him out of bounds and we win the game."
They went up to Antioch to win the quarterfinal 16-7 on a rainy Saturday as Eddy had 2 interceptions, Quast ran for a touchdown and Kiolbassa threw for a score.
Now they were coming home for the Falcons final game on their home field against unbeaten Rich East, which advanced to the semifinals by upsetting Joliet Catholic. On another gray and muddy Saturday afternoon, Prince booted a 26-yard field goal with 3:29 left in regulation for a 3-3 tie.
Kiolbassa was off the mark for most of regulation but in the first overtime he hit Eddy for a go-ahead touchdown. Rich East answered to tie it at 10-10 but had to settle for a field goal on the first possession of the second overtime.
And in what became the last play on Forest View's highlight video from that year, the "Rocky" movie closing theme of "The Final Bell" began just as Kiolbassa took the snap and dropped back to pass as Bazar broke to the left out of the backfield.
Kiolbassa lofted the ball perfectly over a defender and Bazar leaped and came down with a 16-13 victory.
Players and fans streamed to the corner of the end zone to celebrate. Normally, administrators would probably frown on students trying to tear down the school's goal posts and a couple of band members smashing instruments as if they were auditioning to join The Who.
But there was absolutely nothing normal about this trip to Normal.
"That was the whole year in a capsule," O'Malley said. "It's literally what movies are made of. The school's last football game at that field, the last play, you can't make that stuff up."
A trophy secured and preserved
In Hollywood, the story would have culminated with the ultimate underdog ending. Or at least it would have contained more drama.
But Rockford East had its own underdog script by slipping into the postseason at 6-3 after finishing 1-8 a year earlier. There were some warning signs before the Saturday afternoon kickoff at Illinois State University's Hancock Stadium.
"I sensed inside we were in a little bit of trouble," Lussow said. "At ISU you share the same training room and both teams had kids in there getting taped. Brad walks in, and he's a man, and they had four or five guys like him. I'm thinking, ooohhh."
The E-Rabs also had speed to go with the size -- which was evident early when Bazar was caught from behind after a long run. They scored in each quarter for a 28-3 victory as Forest View bowed out at 12-2.
"Unfortunately we didn't play as well as we should have," Quast said.
"It would have been unbelievable to finish the story with a state championship," O'Malley said. "We were a little overconfident and to be honest, it might have been our time, because they were much bigger and quicker."
The Falcons joined the 1978 Buffalo Grove runnerup as the only MSL teams at the time to bring home a trophy in the 11-year history of the state playoffs.
"I don't know if it would have been the same if it was a typical year," Kiolbassa said. "People did jump on board to celebrate what Forest View really stood for at that point. We were playing for the seniors and the school and the alumni."
Kiolbassa, Bazar, O'Malley and the majority of the Falcons' junior class followed Lussow and Wissen to Rolling Meadows. They all helped the school make its first postseason trip, despite Bazar blowing out his knee in the fourth game, but that was basically a footnote for the former Falcons.
And the trophy?
O'Malley joked that the statute of limitations has long run out on how it now sits in spotlights in a shrine in his "man cave."
O'Malley lived a block from Forest View and one night, a year after it closed, he was reminiscing with Bazar so they went over to their old school. A door happened to be open and they decided to go inside to look around.
They peered into an abandoned office and in the middle of a bunch of file cabinets and furniture was the state football trophy. They couldn't believe that the reward for all of their blood, sweat, cheers and tears was being treated no differently than a standard-issue school desk.
So, O'Malley and Bazar thought about it, looked around, and displayed the guts and smarts that helped Forest View get the trophy in the first place.
"We earned it," said O'Malley, who now lives in Cary and sees a lot of high-quality football on the Cary-Grove chain gang. "I said, 'We're taking it.' "
They raced out of their old school with the trophy. O'Malley said it became a traveling trophy of sorts for a few years but ultimately it ended up back in his possession.
"I'll take a picture and send it to the guys and say, 'Does this look familiar?' " O'Malley said with a laugh.
"That's a great story in itself," Lussow said of just recently learning that O'Malley has the trophy. "The trophy belongs to the kids. It doesn't belong to anyone but the team."
A team that will celebrate the 30th anniversary of its BYE at 6 p.m. Saturday at Tilted Kilt in Schaumburg. More than 20 players along with Lussow and Niedbala are expected to get together and relive one of the most magical moments in MSL history.
"It was so much fun," said Quast, who is flying in from his home east of Philadelphia for the impromptu reunion. "I was able to play with my younger brother Kevin, you're 17 years old and you're doing something you didn't think was possible at the beginning of the year.
"And with the school closing, it was such a special season."