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ALTON – There was something about the breathtaking new Public School Stadium's shiny green astro turf and scoreboard, excited fans in the stands, even with masks, youth smiling almost out of their masks and helmets and the energy of high school football again present Friday night in Alton.

The COVID-19 Pandemic stopped high school sports when it hit in force last March in the United States and region. However, even off school sites, the athletes kept training, practicing, in their back yards away from school property or in mini weight rooms established in their basement. The IHSA kept the matter in front of Governor JB Pritzker with creative and safe ways and times to play every sport so each youth could have a season.

Unsung heroes who don’t get the attention they deserve for work beneath the scenes have made it all happen since winter sports resumed are the brilliant area athletic directors, including Alton’s Christopher Kusnerick and Edwardsville’s Alex Fox. The two men and all the area athletic directors are at nearly every event and without them, their plans and constant effort, nothing would be possible.

Alton High School Athletic Director Christopher Kusnerick may have had the best way to sum up Friday night and the overall return to high school athletics, even with shortened seasons:

“I have been overjoyed to see our student-athletes back competing in the sports they love. We finally have some normalcy, despite the COVID-19 protocols we are following, and despite not seeing all the kids at school or in the hallways each day.

"Also, enough cannot be said about the IHSA for remaining steadfast and creative throughout the COVID-19 Pandemic, to make sure all the kids could have a season in their sport, even if shortened.

“The area AD's have been great to work with and have gone above and beyond in implementing the COVID protocols in place that we have to follow as well as getting the schedules set up. It has been crazy busy, but a good busy. We have for the most part finalized a lot of our schedules going forward except for track as we are still waiting on more information from the IHSA what will be the conditions in place that we will need to follow to hold a track and field meet.”

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Alton Head Football Coach Eric Dickerson, as with everyone else, is very happy to be back after the long delay, and many of his players gained valuable experience on the evening.

"Yeah, it was nice to be back out, that's for sure," Dickerson said. "Obviously, things have gone a little different, but we got some experience tonight, and it was good to get out and get away from practicing against one another and play a game. That's the way it is."

It was still a very good performance overall for both the Tigers and Redbirds Friday night at Alton. Edwardsville Head Football Coach Matt Martin, his staff and players were overjoyed to be back on the turf performing after such a long COVID-19 layoff. Matt Martin and Eric Dickerson epitomize what a high school football coach is all about. Both have deep passion for the game, teaching and most of all, helping the young men grow into successful men one day off the field as adults.

"It was just great to be playing again," Martin said.

Fox said he is just happy a decision was made to move forward for the kids.

“The decision was made at point where it was do-or-die time do what we could take away the uncertainty for kids and push forward,” he said. “I am so glad we moved ahead."

Colin Feeney also contributed to this story.

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