MENDON, Ill. — When modern technology accents old-school charm, you wind up watching a prep football game in an environment artists pen songs about and screenwriters use as inspiration for movie scripts.
Friday night, this Adams County village offered one of those backdrops.
From the bonfire in the neighboring yard to a respected, celebrated old coach greeted on the sideline by a cavalcade of former players to a crescent moon disappearing behind the pressbox and grandstand, the Western Illinois Valley Conference North Division showdown between Unity-Payson and Beardstown felt like it could have taken place in an era.
The chill in the air on the eve of October enhanced the atmosphere.
If not for the mammoth video board looming over the north end zone, the punch-you-in-the-mouth-and-I’ll-punch-back affair — Beardstown won 22-20 when it stopped Unity-Payson’s two-point conversion with 1:14 to play in regulation — would have felt more like a step back in time than a 21st century affair.
But the creative uses of the video board by Brian Shoemaker, the Mustangs’ public address announcer and video guru, remind everyone the new-school touches are designed to make it more enjoyable and meaningful for the student-athletes.
“What we’re really trying to do here is enhance their experience on the field,” Shoemaker said.
It explains why Shoemaker took the time for a road trip to Beardstown to create starting lineup videos for the Tigers. As has been the case with Unity-Payson’s previous home opponents, Beardstown embraced the idea and allowed Shoemaker the time and access necessary to sprinkle his magic on the project.
“It’s nice to visit these other kids,” said Shoemaker, whose daughter is a freshman at Unity. “It’s nice to get to know these starters, even in just a couple minutes, just to see them before they get ready for the week to come over here. It is nice to get to be involved in football here at Mendon and football at Unity and around the conference.”
The dedication to the school, the football program and the league envelopes all generations.
From the grandparents to the boys tossing football behind the north zone, each wearing a Mustangs jersey or a Unity ballcap, it’s a way of life.
For further proof, the house beyond the fence in the northeast corner of the football facility showcased a collection of Unity alumni and future Mustangs sitting around a bonfire throughout the game. Many came and went, usually to visit with others in the stadium, but it was their years of camaraderie and Unity roots that drew them together.
The same thing took place at the south end of the facility, where grandparents bought candy and popcorn for their grandkids and some watched from chairs along the end zone where they have sat for home games for decades.
So many schools are replacing their grass fields with artificial turf, surrounding it with an all-weather track and building grandstands with more appealing bathrooms and concession stands.
Those places lack charm. They lack character. They lack ambiance.
Unity has it all and a community that embraces the history and small-town vibes associated with its classic facility.
It’s where a Friday night is meant to be spent and where this Friday night was perfect.
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