The city’s two public high schools come from the same mother, Belleville Township High School District 201.
But when the east-end students moved to their new campus in 1966, they left behind the familiar maroon and white and the team nickname which is still owned by West.
So, the East Lancers — clad in navy and Columbia blue — launched their own tradition.
It was put to Lloyd Elmore to build a new athletics department. That meant organizing a coaching staff, buying uniforms, putting together the schedules, finding referees and all the other minutiae that goes with being an athletic director.
He built his resume for the job at the University of Missouri, where he was the catcher for the Tigers’ 1954 baseball team, the only Mizzou squad to win a national championship.
Without assistants, secretaries or computers, Elmore did the AD’s job for East’s first 10 years of existence.
His first move was to hire coach Dean Renn to start a football program, which was launched with incredible success. The Lancers never had a losing season in Renn’s 16 years as coach and Elmore went on to induction in the Illinois Athletic Directors Association.
Those auspicious beginnings and the half-century which has ensued will be celebrated Saturday at East’s stadium when the Lancers take on East St. Louis. Elmore will serve as the Lancers’ honorary captain.
All former players, coaches and athletic directors are invited to the game. A pregame reception will begin in the stadium at 11 a.m. All will then be recognized at halftime. The party will continue after the game at Silver Creek Saloon with a reception and reunion.
What will they all be celebrating? Plenty. Below is a timeline of highlights from 50 years of Belleville East Lancers football.
50 YEARS OF FOOTBALL
COACH RENN: Renn got the football program off to a strong start with an inaugural-season record of 5-3-1. Renn finished with a career mark of 114-36, having never had a losing season in his 16 years.
ALL STARS: Gary Pensoneau and Jerry Schlich were selected to represent the Lancers at the Illinois-Missouri All-Star Game. East finished the season 8-2.
UNDEFEATED: After consecutive eight-win seasons, East went unbeaten in just its fourth year with a football program. Among the Lancers’ wins was a 29-8 beating of cross-town rival West, which finished that season 10-1.
THE “MUD BOWL”: The Lancers lost some tough games, including a 6-0 defeat against West in the famed “Mud Bowl” game at Township Stadium. Just a week earlier, however, East beat Althoff by the same score under similar swamp-like conditions. It was fullback Kenny Vaughn who belly-flopped across the goal line for the winning score.
HARD HITTING: Also that season, Renn declared a 29-14 loss to the Collinsville Kahoks as the “hardest hitting in East’s history.” The Lancers caused four Collinsville fumbles, two broken legs and “a few cracked ribs.”
“THIS CLOSE”: The Lancers finished 4-4-2, much to the dismay of Coach Renn, who thought the team was much better than its record. He told BND sportswriter Bill Coats: “On paper, this team compares favorably with some of the better teams Belleville East has had ... If we had just made a few big plays at the right times we would have had an excellent football team.”
SHUT OUT: The Illinois High School Association launched its state playoff series, but it wasn’t as inclusive as it is today. A team can qualify today with a 6-3 or even a 5-4 record, depending on playoff points. Until 1980, a team had to win its conference to participate in the postseason. In six seasons from 1974 through 1979, East finished 6-3 twice, but was otherwise 7-2. Still, it was shut out of the playoffs.
RICH MAUCH: He had one of the great seasons in Lancers’ history, racking up 1,516 net yards and 20 touchdowns. The Lancers finished 7-2.
BLUE NOVEMBER: The Lancers finished the regular season with an 8-1 record and qualified for the Class 6A playoffs for the first time. East won its first playoff game, 28-17, over Galesburg to advance to the quarterfinals. It ended there with a 14-10 loss to Reavis High School of Burbank.
END OF AN ERA: Renn led the Lancers to an 8-1 record and a second-straight 6A playoff berth. He resigned following a first-round loss to East Moline.
WHAT A WAY TO GO OUT: The Southwestern Conference, to that point, had just six teams since Edwardsville and O’Fallon had not yet joined. As such, the Lancers faced Belleville West and East St. Louis twice that season and won all four games.
COACH MCGINNIS: Mike McGinnis became the Lancers’ second head coach, and has had the longest tenure in that position to date. In 21 seasons under McGinnis, East went 106-93, and qualified for the postseason nine times, including a second trip to the quarterfinals in 1988.
STATE RUN: Arguably the best team of the McGinnis era, the Lancers finished the regular season at 7-2 with losses to Mehlville (Mo.) and East St. Louis. East picked up its second playoff win against Danville, 23-10, but lost a second-round rematch to the Flyers 26-15.
FORRY WELLS: The Lancers were led that season by quarterback Forry Wells, who went on to be a four-year starting punter at the University off Illinois. He also spent six years playing minor-league baseball.
WINNING STREAK: The Lancers capped a string of three straight playoff seasons with a 7-2 team that lost in the first round of the 6A tournament. Delaun Fowlers led the way with more than 1,000 rushing yards. “When running the ball I feel as free as a bird,” Fowler said. “Sliding, gliding, juking, jetting ... all good running backs know that feeling.”
NATHAN HODEL: He was a two-sport athlete at East, good enough to play both baseball and football at the University of Illinois. His specialized skill as a long snapper, however, was his ticket to the NFL. Hodel joined the Carolina Panthers as an undrafted rookie in 2001 and played in 113 games over the next eight seasons with the Arizona Cardinals, New England Patriots and Detroit Lions.
SILVER ANNIVERSARY: A stunning win at East St. Louis helped the Flyers to a 7-2 regular season record and a Southwestern Conference Championship. Bigger still was the city bragging rights. The Lancers beat Belleville West 35-7 in the rivalry’s 25th anniversary game.
PLAYOFF BOUND: East lost its first-round playoff game, but had several standout performances that season. Running back Aaron Friedenberg led the team with 1,187 yards rushing with 13 touchdowns. The team’s top tackler was Kris Stephens, who 20 years later would be named the Lancers’ fourth head coach.
UP IN CLASS: The IHSA increased its number of enrollment classes from six to eight. The Lancers qualified for the first Class 8A state playoffs with a 6-3 record, losing in the first round to Downers Grove South. It was the last team McGinnis would lead to the playoffs.
MOVE TO CAMPUS: Belleville East played its final season at Township Stadium, which would be torn down and renovated into the future home of Lindenwood University in Belleville. The Lancers moved to its field at its new campus in 2003.
COACH FUNK: Tim Funk took over the program from McGinnis and promptly led the Lancers to the 8A playoffs in eight of the next nine seasons. He had only two losing years out of 12, finishing 4-5 in both 2012 and 2013. His overall record at East was 71-51.
TITLE RUN: The Lancers battled through a typically rugged Southwestern Conference schedule, losing in consecutive weeks to East St. Louis and O’Fallon after winning their first five. With a 7-2 record, East advanced to the Class 7A playoffs where it got its revenge against O’Fallon, 29-13, in the first round and defeated Belleville West for the second time, 21-13. A 21-17 win over Minooka sent the Lancers to the semifinals for the first time in their history. A 41-7 loss to Wheaton-Warrenville South ended the run, but the Lancers advanced in the further into the playoffs than any previous township team and matched the East record for wins in a season.
COACH STEPHENS: Funk resigned after leading the Lancers to the playoffs in 2014 –his nine playoff appearance in 12 years as years as head coach. Kris Stephens, a 1995 East graduate, took over the program after several years as a defensive assistant at Belleville West. In his first season, Stephens led East to a 6-3 finish and a Class 8A playoff berth.