High School Football

AD, East St. Louis Flyers holding out hope for quick agreement to end teacher strike

East St. Louis head football coach Darren Sunkett would like to get his players back on the gridiron and prepare to play a game.
East St. Louis head football coach Darren Sunkett would like to get his players back on the gridiron and prepare to play a game. tvizer@bnd.com

East St. Louis has lost to Montini and Belleville West on the football field this season, but it’s also the forfeit losses from the District 189 teacher strike that might keep the Flyers out of the state playoffs.

Unless a settlement occurs soon, the Flyers (3-4) are in danger of forfeiting their Southwestern Conference football game Friday at Collinsville. That would give them five losses and likely would eliminate them from the state playoffs.

East St. Louis Athletic Director Leonard Manley is hoping for something productive to come from a planned Wednesday negotiation session between teachers and the district. Not only games and practices are being missed, but also day after day of classroom opportunities for district students.

District 189 held an emergency meeting at 2 p.m. Tuesday and approved the high school sports teams returning to practices. That move could suggest a potential end to the strike is near.

“It’s not a pretty time for athletics in East St. Louis,” Manley said, “but it’s not a pretty time for the teachers, the administration, the citizens ... it goes across the board with everybody being disappointed, everybody being hurt, everybody being affected by this.”

It’s not a pretty time for athletics in East St. Louis, but it’s not a pretty time for the teachers, the administration, the citizens ... it goes across the board with everybody being disappointed, everybody being hurt, everybody being affected by this.

East St. Louis Athletic Director Leonard Manley

This is a Flyers football program that has produced seven state football championships since 1974, more than any other metro-east school, along with two teams finishing the season ranked first in the nation.

The Flyers and their fans look forward to competing in the state playoffs on an annual basis and have not missed out on qualifying since 1999.

“That’s unfortunate for not just the East St. Louis Senior High School players and coaches, but it’s devastating to the community itself,” Manley said “They’re proud of this football program and they look forward to football season, the regular season and the postseason.

“I think it would be somewhat disappointing to the metropolitan area as well. We have a nice following of fans that come from all over to watch Flyer football, so it would be disappointing to them, too.”

The Flyers are scheduled to play at Collinsville on Friday and then at home against O’Fallon on Oct. 23. Even if the strike is settled, they still must abide by Illinois High School Association by-law requirements of three organized practices approved by the East St. Louis school board and administration with approved personnel in charge.

That would need to be done between now and Friday based on a teachers strike that is more than seven but fewer than 14 days old.

“It has to be approved by the school board and the local school administration for us to have it count as a practice,” said Craig Anderson, the IHSA’s assistant executive director. “Our rules allow for that. Kids play and prepare a long time for these opportunities. For them to not get the opportunity is unfortunate.

“Everybody, in my opinion, finds themselves in a difficult position.”

Just getting back on the field isn’t good enough, either. The Flyers have not played a game since Sept. 26, when they lost 35-26 to Belleville West.

Even with the strike settled and practice requirements met, they still would need to beat Collinsville and O’Fallon on the field to qualify for the playoffs. A Collinsville official said their district would prefer to play the game on Friday as scheduled.

“I’ve learned in my lifetime that we have to take the negative and try to make a positive out of it,” Manley said. “We have to play to get in the playoffs. We have to play like we’re hungry enough that we want to be in the playoffs.”

Football is just one of many sports affected by the strike.

The golf team was unable to compete in the playoffs and the volleyball team has been forced to forfeit regular-season games. Boys and girls cross country regionals are Oct. 24 and the volleyball team opens regional play Oct. 27 at the Belleville West Regional.

“Our volleyball team, the cross country team, all our teams ... they are just as important,” Manley said. “It’s not just the football team that’s disappointed. All of our fall sports teams are dissppointed as well as our fans.”

Norm Sanders: 618-239-2454, @NormSanders

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