CAHOKIA — The Cahokia Comanches began official workouts on Wednesday for a 2013 football season that had been in jeopardy.
Last winter, Cahokia District 187 administrators proposed budget cuts that threatened to eliminate all extracurricular activities -- including high school sports -- as a result of the state's funding difficulties.
But on Wednesday, veteran Comanches coach Antwyne Golliday said 62 players went through the first official workout of the season in cool temperatures at Cahokia High School.
"I'm very pleased with our numbers," he said. "We're up, and I was especially pleased with the 17 freshmen we had out there today. Usually, they don't come out until school starts.
"But we're glad to be out here. We've had a good summer and most of the kids I expected out are here. I think we're going to surprise some people this season.
Golliday recalled those gloomy days last winter when at times it appeared that his football program, a perennial power in the South Seven Conference producing several Division I players, may not play any games.
When news broke that Cahokia was considering eliminating sports, Golliday received several phone calls from concerned parents and family members.
Six players he was counting on transferred to other schools, Golliday said Wednesday.
"It was an administrative decision but, honestly, I just didn't think they would cut football, basketball and track,'' Golliday said "Football and basketball are revenue generating sports, and then track has been so successful.''
The Cahokia's boys basketball team placed second in the 2013 Class 3A state tournament. The boys track program last spring won its third straight Class 2A state title.
The possible elimination of sports at Cahokia became state-wide news. Everything came to a head during the Class 3A state basketball Tournament in Peoria in March.
"It was nuts. I was getting phone calls and text messages from coaches from around the state wanting to know if we were dropping sports at Cahokia,'' Golliday said. "Some of my contacts up north called to see if different players were transferring.''
"Like I said, there were six (football) kids who transferred out. I have no problem with that when the family moves. I'm a coach and I'm going to coach the kids who are here.''
Cahokia opens its 2013 season with a 5:30 p.m. home game Aug. 30 against O'Fallon.
New coach in a new location
Former Marquette head coach Tim Nelson was replaced last season, but it didn't take him long to find another job. Nelson takes over this season at Dupo, which figures to be a small-school state playoff contender.
Nelson met the team March 1 and immediately organized workouts and led the summer drills.
"I've got butterflies and I haven't had butterflies since I was a kid," Nelson said. "I'm just so ready to go. That excitement doesn't disappear, it just feels more official when you get to this stage. We knew we had a lot of catching up to do with what established programs in the state have going on."
Nelson's 2012 Marquette squad was 10-2 and reached the Class 4A quarterfinals. He inherited a veteran team at Dupo with high expectations following a 6-4 season that included the first state playoff appearance since 2004.
"We ask kids to do things and they do it," Nelson said. "There isn't questioning of why to do it, they do it and they know we're doing things to help them get better. We're a hard-working community and we're going to bring that on the football field."