Althoff Catholic High School has three state football championships to its credit. But the school's graduates and fans are hungry for a shot at their first title since 1990 and many of them plan to make the seven-hour round trip Friday to Champaign to see the Crusaders play.
"Last time we were in this was 22 years ago," Althoff Principal David Harris said. "We have had high hopes for this group since they came in as freshman, not only as athletes but as individuals.
"You like to see a group of kids like this be able to feel success like this, because they achieve success every day without knowing it," he said. "They are a great group of kids."
Harris will travel with the football team, which was scheduled to leave Thanksgiving night.
A "kids fan bus" departs from the school at 8:30 a.m. Friday, according to Harris. He said the bus will take 50 students to the game, including the cheerleading squad, along with several faculty members.
Many local residents bought tickets for $10 at the school earlier this week. Tickets could only be purchased at the school through Tuesday, and Harris estimated between 200 and 250 tickets were sold. However, fans still can buy them Friday at Memorial Stadium.
Belleville resident John LeChien, 36 and a 1995 Althoff graduate, said traveling to see Althoff play for the state championship is something of a family tradition. He's going to the game with his dad, Jack LeChien.
"We went twice before to see Althoff play in the state championship game," LeChien said. "My dad and some cousins and I went in 1989 and 1990. They won those games with us there so, hopefully, they'll win again this time."
Le Chien said he attended Althoff's two home playoff games this year and watched the road game on the Internet. While the school's alumni are excited about the game, he said some are disappointed it's being played Friday instead of Saturday.
"I think a lot more people would go if that wasn't a work day for them," Le Chien said. "But it's tough for some people to get off work on Black Friday."
Belleville restaurant owner Mark Onstott said he plans to host a party Friday afternoon for those who can't make the trip. He said he'll show the game at Shenanigans, 15 N. 54th St., just down West Main Street from Althoff.
"We're going to have the game on the TVs, and we expect a lot of Althoff people to be here," Onstott said. "It's going to be a good time with lots of specials."
Although there will be alcohol on sale, Onstott said he plans to keep the atmosphere at Shenanigans family friendly.
Reporter Jamie Forsythe contributed to this report.
Watch the game
Kickoff: 1 p.m. today
TV: Channels 8 and 90; DirecTV 665; Dish Network 429; Madison 8
On the web: ESPN3.com