The story was Lees, Libertyville and a blizzard they whipped

  • Libertyville's Tim Calamari celebrates the Wildcats' 22-17 win over host Bradley-Bourbonnais in the 2015 Class 7A state semifinals.

    Libertyville's Tim Calamari celebrates the Wildcats' 22-17 win over host Bradley-Bourbonnais in the 2015 Class 7A state semifinals. DAILY HERALD FILE PHOTO

Updated 3/31/2020 3:06 PM

The stats -- total inches of snowfall, windchill temperature -- elude me.

If I recall correctly, 39 inches of snow blanketed the northern part of Illinois on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2015, and the wind chill was a matching minus-39 degrees.


Sure seemed like it, anyway.

Funny, because that's the total number of points the Libertyville and host Bradley-Bourbonnais football teams somehow managed to score in a blizzard on that gray afternoon. In a Dickens-esque way, it was the best of times (for Libertyville football) and the worst of times (for anyone who absolutely, positively had to travel to beautiful Bradley in Kankakee County to watch the Class 7A state semifinal).

That Libertyville won 22-17 on superstar Riley Lees' heroic sneak from the 1-yard line as time expired made me smile for the first time that day. As reporters, we don't root for teams (or shouldn't), but we cheer (internally) like overserved college students for the story. Libertyville and its fans who braved that day's snowstorm to cheer on their team were the story that day.

Despite the fantastic finish authored by Lees, one of the best high school athletes I've covered in three decades of doing this, the fact the game wasn't postponed still angers me.

No one should have been driving a vehicle on that day, risking injury (or worse) to themselves and others, never mind damage to their vehicle. The blizzard was already in full force by midmorning. As I started my commute to the game, I remember pulling out of the driveway and thinking, "There's no way they're playing this game. They HAVE to cancel it."

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I kept grumbling. After covering 10 miles in 30 minutes, hands locked in the "10 and 2" position and trying to keep my car from skidding off the road, I pulled into a parking lot and considered going back home.

Nearly 4½ hours later, I arrived at Bradley-Bourbonnais, late, mentally fried, thrilled I made it without damaging anything or anyone. The game had already started. Winds whipped, snow kept falling horizontally, and the accumulation made yard lines almost impossible to see.

But the teams kept playing. I kept writing on crumpled, wind-torn notepad paper. The conditions made Lees human. The Northwestern-bound QB threw 2 interceptions and fumbled the ball away twice. No way he does that in normal conditions.

But like the great ones do, Lees -- sleeveless on this day, mind you -- prevailed. He found a way. He overcame all obstacles, including a good opponent that thought it had stopped him before his extended arm broke the plane on the final play.

Libertyville went on to lose to Glenbard West 34-28 in a great state-title game between undefeated teams the following Saturday in DeKalb, despite Lees' 4 TD passes.

Tough loss. But, hey, it didn't snow.

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