It all began with a 0-0 tie against Edwardsville in 1916.
One hundred years later, the Belleville West Maroons are holding their century of football celebration before, during and after their 1 p.m. home game Saturday against city rival Belleville East.
The Maroons, then known as Belleville Township High School, scored only six points in their first season - and that came on an 85-yard fumble return for a touchdown against Collinsville by Kurt Lueuschner. They were outscored 121-6 that season at North End Park on North Illinois Street, but went on to build one of the top football traditions in the metro-east.
The Maroons were unbeaten in 1929 (9-0), 1938 (10-0) and 1962 (10-0). They also have won nine or more games 12 times, the last time in 1976 when West set a school record with 11 victories.
The most lopsided win was a 108-0 victory over Sparta in the 1942 opener that included 699 yards rushing and 826 yards of offense. Nine players scored at least one touchdowns in the game, led by Dick McElvey’s four TDs.
Joe Young played quarterback for Belleville West in the mid-1970s, including the 11-1 1976 season that saw the Maroons go unbeaten until a 13-10 loss to Glenbard West in the Class 5A semifinals.
“Back then in the playoffs, every round you were playing a conference champion,” said Young, part of a 1976 squad that included all-state linebacker Kirk Sonnenberg and offensive stars back Austin Kattenbraker and Bob Carroll. “There was nobody getting in at 5-4 or 6-3, anything like that.”
Township Stadium, recently renovated and now known as Lindenwood Stadium, still holds a special place in Young’s memory.
“I’ll never forget playing in the old stadium,” said Young, a photojournalist for KSDK Channel 5 in St. Louis. “Playing in the old stadium, there was nothing like that. There was just something about walking down that walkway onto the field... it was just magical.
“You were so close to the stands and the field had the big crowd on it. It was such a unique place.”
Young grew up in Belleville attending games at Township Stadium and later had the thrill of playing quarterback for the Maroons during an unbeaten regular season and Southwestern Conference championship.
During his younger days, he recalled the massive crowds that reached 10,000 or more in East St. Louis and Belleville for the annual Thanksgiving Day game between the Flyers and Maroons. The teams played on Thanksgiving Day every year but one (1929) from 1926 to 1973.
“Even to this day, you still have memories of the place,” Young said of Township Stadium, which was pinned in by railroad tracks on one side and offered the closest view for fans of any stadium in the region. “It just felt like football. You’d see the glow of the lights and as a kid going to games there it was juts so cool. To be able to play there was just awesome.
“(Belleville West) was quite the winning program and you were just proud to carry that tradition on, proud of the fact that you played on championship team.”
Belleville West is inviting all former players, coaches, cheerleaders and cheerleading coaches to attend the game and be part of the celebration. Former PGA Masters champ Bob Goalby, a former football star at Belleville Township, will serve as honorary captain and handle the pregame coin flip.
A postgame reception will be held at Fischer’s Restaurant at Belleville with appetizers and a cash bar.
Milk Bowl memories
After winning only four of the previous 32 Milk Bowl encounters with rival Mate Dei, the Central Cougars were due for a massive celebration if they ever won another one.
That celebration took place Friday after Central posted a 46-35 victory that included 216 yards rushing and six touchdowns from senior running back Collin Thomas before another overflow crowd of more than 3,000.
“It was pretty indescribable,” said Central coach Brian Short, whose team improved to 5-0. “Outside of my wedding and my children being born, there’s not much of a better night than that one. Until 2013, I didnt really realize how important this game was until we won one.
“Getting to win one at home was special, being in front of our home crowd.”
Central led 21-13 heading to the fourth quarter before both defenses were put to the test in an offensive explosion.
“I twas a complete shootout,” Short said. “Somebody asked me when I felt comfortable. I didn’t feel comfortable until there were zweros on teh baord and (Mater Dei quarterback) Colin Schuetz was on their bus.”
The most special moment for Short was seeing his team celebrate while surrounded by fans who had stormed the field after the rare victory over the Knights.
“Seeing our crowd on the field after the game ... seeing that many people at Central HIgh School excited about football, was a pretty special moment for me,” he said. “To see the looks on our kids faces when they see that much sport for them, that’s pretty special for me.”
Conference races are tight
Edwardsville (5-0) will put a 30-game Southwestern Conference win streak on the line Friday night when the Tigers play host to the 5-0 East St. Louis Flyers.
Edwardsville’s last conference loss was to East St. Louis, a 14-7 defeat on Sept. 7, 2012. The Tigers avenged that loss later in the same season, defeating the Flyers 21-18 in the state playoffs.
Edwardsville has won the last three games against East St. Louis, including 29-28 in 2013 and 57-32 in 2014. The third game was a forfeit win over the Flyers last season during the East St. Louis teachers strike.
Highland (4-1) and Civic Memorial (4-1) are tied atop the Mississippi Valley Conference standings with identical 2-0 league records, with Triad (4-1) and Waterloo (3-2) each 1-1 in the league. Several intriguing games remain, with Highland still to face Triad and Civic Memorial and Triad also with a game against Civic Memorial.
Waterloo has Jerseyville, Civic Memorial and Mascoutah remaining on its league schedule.
The Cahokia Conference race should begin shorting itself out this week, but right now there are still three 5-0 teams with Columbia (3-0 in league play), Central (3-0 in league play) and Red Bud (4-0 in league play).
Central travels to Red Bud on Friday and still must play Columbia, with Columbia still scheduled to face both teams.
Columbia owns four straight conference titles and a 27-game conference unbeaten streak dating back to a 27-20 loss to Red Bud on Oct. 24, 2011. Ironically, that season marked the last time Columbia lost to Central, a 27-20 week coming seven days after the Red Bud defeat.