A week shy of kickoff, the Aurora Central Catholic football program already has stared down its first crisis of the season.
After a summer of failed attempts to firm up details regarding a Week 1 matchup with visiting Tilden High School, ACC coach Brian Casey finally reached the Tilden athletic department Friday morning.
He didn’t like what he heard.
Casey was informed that Tilden only had six players available and needed to forfeit the game, scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday.
With their blood pressures spiking, Casey and ACC athletic director Sean Bieterman, both furiously worked the phones, placing calls in and out of state, to see if any replacement opponent could be lined up on such short notice. Finally, Casey had success with Wauwatosa East High School in suburban Milwaukee, though the Chargers will have to travel there for a 7 p.m. game Friday.
“It’s incredibly disappointing, but it’s the situation we’re in,” Bieterman said. “It’s out of our control. I feel good about fact we found a game for Week 1. It’s one of those things where you’re in a scramble. I honestly thought there was no chance we’d find a game. We’re fortunate this worked out.”
Casey was making another attempt to check on game day logistics for the Tilden matchup, including a head count for a food spread, when the bombshell was dropped.
“I’ve been coaching for a long time myself,” Bieterman said. “I think, honestly, and I’m not saying this to be rude, but they had every intention of just not showing up. If we had not called them, they were not calling us. They had plenty of opportunity to tell us over the summer and once they realized what numbers were going to be, and it’s been 11 days since practice started, and there’s been no call.”
ACC and Tilden, a Chicago Public League school that won six games last year, were only lined up for a one-year contract. Wauwatosa also had a scheduled opponent forfeit for next week, setting up a matchup of two teams desperate for someone – anyone – to knock pads against. Bieterman said Wauwatosa is a little larger than ACC, but he expects the Chargers to be competitive.
This if the second straight year ACC’s season has started in bizarre, disappointing fashion. Another Wisconsin school, Oostburg, was ACC’s regularly scheduled Week 1 opponent last year, but when lightning postponed the teams’ Friday night matchup, Oostburg declined to stay in town or return the next day, giving the Chargers a forfeit win to start the season.
ACC suddenly seemed headed toward another forfeit win to begin 2014, but the Chargers wanted no part of that scenario.
“It’s one of those things, as an athletic director, you don’t want to deal with the week before your first game,” Bieterman said. “We were fortunate. Brian helped me tremendously today. We were able to get on the horn and we decided first one to find a game wins. It worked out in the end.”
Well, sort of.
Relieved as Bieterman is to have secured a replacement so swiftly, the lost revenue from a home game, added travel costs of trekking to the Milwaukee area (in Friday traffic) and the postponement of a 20-year reunion of ACC’s 1994 football team – possibly until basketball season – are all substantial drawbacks.
On top of that, ACC now is only scheduled to play three homes this season, and none until Week 4, Sept. 19 against Guerin.
But worst-case scenario was avoided.
“This is probably an $8,000 to $10,000 swing but the important thing is our kids need to play,” Bieterman said. “That’s number one. It’s not about the money, it’s about the fact that our kids have worked hard and they deserve the right to play a Week 1 game. That’s what we were fighting for today when we learned the bad news.”
If football is supposed to instill resiliency, the Chargers’ coaching staff is setting the example.
In Wisconsin, this is the first weekend of the season, so Wauwatosa East’s first game of the season was Friday night. By mid-afternoon Friday, just as the final details of the hastily arranged agreement were being finalized, members of ACC’s coaching staff were speeding north to scout the Chargers’ new opponent.
Casey said ACC’s players were initially downcast about losing the chance to play in front of family and friends in the opener, but quickly regrouped.
“We had a team retreat up [to Wisconsin] last weekend in Lake Geneva, and the name of the retreat was ‘Chargers Up North,’ ” Casey said. ... “Within 10 minutes, they kind of came back to ‘Chargers Return North.’ So, who knows, maybe it can work out to our advantage that way, but it’s unfortunate for everyone, really.”
• Jay Schwab is sports editor of the Kane County Chronicle. He can be reached at 630-845-5382 or firstname.lastname@example.org.