BELLEVILLE — For one last time, two old intra-city rivals met under the Friday night lights.
Belleville West and Althoff played their latest -- and last -- high school football contest on West's home turf, marking an end to an 80-year rivalry.
The stands were filled and the field's perimeter was filled with fans and students, both present and past, rooting for their team. The current student bodies displayed their allegiances with special T-shirts made for the occasion. Althoff students wore gold shirts with a navy cross on the front that read "end of an era" and the back claiming that the Belleville Catholic high school led the rivalry 23 wins to West's 20.
West students were not wearing their Mighty Maroons' maroon, but rather, black T-shirts that read: "The end of an era. Thank you Althoff..." On the back, it continued to read "for all of the wins."
It wasn't meant to be a funeral.
"It's a blackout," said 14-year-old West freshman Jordan Johnson. "They told us to wear black."
Althoff sophomore Ethan Hahs said he will miss the annual game with West.
"It's been a good game that Belleville West and Althoff have played," the 16-year-old said. "I have been to a lot of their games and they're good games. I will miss West because it's been good. They're big rivals."
As the student body at Althoff has declined in recent years, so has the competition.
And with West having recently dominated the rivalry with several victories in recent years, the two schools decided to not schedule any more football games.
West would be the best again, Friday night, beating Althoff 53-20.
West graduate John Hardester said beating Althoff and cross-town rival Belleville East was always a goal when he played and was something he still takes pride in as an alumnus.
"Being the city champions, beating East and beating Althoff, it was the big thing that you had to win to be city champs," said Hardester, a 1986 graduate.
I think it's kind of sad because it has been going on for so long," said Carla Hardester, also from the Class of '86. "It was just a friendly rivalry."
Jason Diekemper remembers playing linebacker on the other side and beating West.
"I always had a good time when I played against them," the 1999 Althoff graduate said. "When I went there, we always knew who was playing on the other side of the ball."
Diekemper's classmate Mike Embrich said he misses watching the two teams play at West's and Althoff's former home field, Township Stadium at the old Belleville West campus on West Main Street. The high school left the campus, which has since been home to Lindenwood University and its football team, although Althoff still plays its home games there.
"You knew who was on the other team," Embrich said. "My sister went to West. I went to Althoff. It was really fun. Belleville is not that big, so you just knew everybody. It was a good rivalry."
Mike Lundy's allegiance went to the home team because his daughters are students at West.
"You're going to get me in a heap of trouble," said Lundy, an Althoff graduate, said when asked who he was rooting for. "Belleville West."
Lundy, who is the executive director for the Southwestern Illinois Development Authority in Collinsville, played for the Crusaders and remembers looking forward to playing West each year.
"I played back in '75 and '76, and it was a city rivalry and you just never forget those games," Lundy said. "In my junior year, we beat West 8 to 7. We had a really good team. And then in my senior year, we got killed by like 24 to nothing. So you got to see the good and bad of both."
Rich Sauget Sr. played for Cathedral High School in town, which was later renamed Althoff Catholic, and fondly remembers the rivalry.
"It was something to look forward to, to play hard, to play your best and hopefully things would work out," Sauget said.
Today, Sauget's son Rich is Althoff's assistant football coach. Both he and his son played for the Crusaders before going on to play both football and baseball at the University of Notre Dame and were drafted by Major League Baseball teams.
Sauget said he will miss the annual competition, but will still have the memories.
"We competed well," he said. "It was a challenge you wanted to have. You accepted it and went about it and tried to do your best."
Contact reporter Will Buss at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2526.