By Matt Nestor
The Auburn Knights had enough pressure as it was. Between an undefeated regular season in the conference and an All-State caliber player, big things were expected from Auburn.
For East, there was no pressure and no expectations initially. For a team that had not won anything in more than 10 years, a regional championship was reason to celebrate, let alone almost pulling off a sectional title.
But for both schools, as well as the other schools in the district, there was pressure to show, if anything else, that the schools and programs were successful and supported throughout the process while talks of budget cuts and program elimination was going on in the district.
On those fronts, both schools succeeded on every level.
Auburn went as far as they had been in 30 years. The level of success they achieved as a team was as good as anyone in the state.
From a local standpoint, they ran through the conference undefeated. That included the rare and difficult task of defeating a high-level Boylan team three times.
On top of that, the Knights played at sold-out venues along the way, turning people away at the regional and sectional finals before putting in a sizeable and loud crowd in DeKalb on the campus of Northern Illinois University.
In much the same way, the E-Rabs accomplished a level of success they have not had in more than a decade in a season where many outside observers did not expect much success.
But to call the East run a surprise would sell short what the team hoped and expected to accomplish. Coach Roy Sackmaster told anyone along the way that he felt his team would compete for a regional title and came within seconds of winning a sectional title.
Much the same way, the East crowd was loud and proud all along the way. In fact, an East win in the sectional would have set up a surreal moment in which the two Rockford schools would have played back-to-back games at NIU.
What both runs proved, coupled with Jefferson’s run last year and improving teams in all other sports, is that with proper support from the schools, administration and the coaching staff, these programs can thrive, building successful athletes and great young men and women.
From the March 23-29 issue