Helmet challenge becomes statewide hit
As the COVID-19 pandemic deepened into a matter of months and not weeks, Travis Myers knew people didn't just need sports.
They needed football.
Beyond the NFL draft and the smattering of college commitments, the Glenbrook South teacher and assistant football coach came up with a way to give fans a little bit more. He found an outlet for them to feed that competitive fire.
It might not be the gridiron action itself, but Myers' online Illinois Football Helmet Challenge proved to be just what prep football fans needed during a relentless athletic drought.
"It's who you are as a program, and I think this tapped into that pride," Myers said. "There's a lot of negative out there right now. People need something positive like this."
After getting the idea from a similar movement in Iowa, Myers in early April spread the word on Twitter that he was putting together a competition to find the state's best high-school football helmet.
He hoped to receive 50 responses but wound up with 164. The bracket grew from 64 to 128 and to the point where he simply couldn't accept any additional entries -- it was time for the competition to begin through Twitter polls.
It was a simple process once Myers uploaded pictures of all the helmets from a bursting Google Drive file. Win a matchup by garnering more votes than your opponent, and you move on to the next round in the bracket.
On and on it went for weeks.
The matchups were fascinating. Carterville vs. Maine South. Jacobs vs. Clifton Central. Glenbard South vs. Fulton. Libertyville vs. Effingham. This was truly a state tournament, and the state responded by the thousands. By the time it ended, about 200,000 total votes poured in.
"It was a huge undertaking but it was exciting," Myers said. "We got the entire state. That was pretty cool."
Week after week the field narrowed as Palatine's Pirate emblem edged Maroa-Forsyth's mighty sword and York's trademark "Y" knocked out Richmond-Burton's Rocket "R."
Helmets had to survive five rounds of regional play until eight champions emerged: Lake Zurich, Taft, Minooka, Princeton, Fisher, Bolingbrook, Burlington Central and Dakota. From there it came down to the final between Fisher and Minooka, a showdown pulled out by the Bunnies by a margin of 53 to 47 percent.
Thanks to Hubbys Helmets in Kansas, Myers was able to send the champion an orange mini helmet with "Illinois Helmet Challenge Champs 2020" proudly printed on the side atop a map of Illinois.
During the process Myers met people from around the country who were interested in creating a similar competition in their own state. Now that 33 states have committed to finding their own best prep football helmet, a national tournament is being planned for June.
At a time when fans needed a distraction, Myers found one that's headed nationwide.
"I was hoping for a couple hundred votes and now I look at what it's become," Myers said. "It's been great to see the players, coaches and communities get behind it."