By FRED KRONER
Some things go together, automatically and naturally.
Peanut butter and jelly.
Chocolate and chips.
Baskets and balls.
To the seemingly endless list is an annual rite of fall: Homecoming week and powderpuff football games.
Those traditions will be renewed this week when high school girls at St. Joseph-Ogden and Mahomet-Seymour participate in their school’s powderpuff football games.
The game at SJ-O will take place on Tuesday. M-S’ game will happen on Wednesday, following a late-afternoon, mid-week Homecoming parade.
“I think powderpuff means a lot to the student body because it brings out another way for the students to get involved and have fun,” said M-S senior Jack McHale. “This game helps by getting people, who don’t maybe do as much, involved as well.”
At SJ-O, it’s also a highlight.
“I think powderpuff is the most anticipated event of homecoming week, other than the actual game and dance,” said senior Ben Setterdahl, who will help coach the Class of 2019 team. “For the girls, some of them look forward all fall for a chance to be playing under the lights with their friends.”
Student council members at both high schools help organize and orchestrate the event.
At M-S, the coordinator is senior Audrey McNamara.
“For the most part, we do not change much from year to year in regards to powderpuff.” she said.
However, this year a couple of tweaks were necessary.
“Since the homecoming parade was moved to Wednesday evening, we made the change of removing the powderpuff bonfire,” McNamara said. “Instead, the Mahomet Boosters are running a concession stand during the powderpuff game.
“Having the parade, three powderpuff games, and a bonfire would not have been logistically feasible, especially on a school night during this busy week.”
Also new at M-S is the pre-game entertainment.
“Another change was the addition of a small introductory performance by the M-S HS Drumline,” McNamara said. “They will play as students and community members are coming into the event to hype everyone up before the game.”
There is no set charge for those who attend at M-S, but McNamara said, “we are implementing a donation entry to raise money for the Student Council.”
SJ-O student council member Kalli Ingram found that her duties this year included player recruitment.
“This year was challenging because last year not very many people signed up to play,” Ingram said, “which meant the games fell apart.
“So, this year I had to find a way to make sure each class had enough players to have a team.”
She put full effort into her task.
“Besides just advertising the sign-ups in the daily announcements, this year I switched lunches and, during my lunch, I went around to all the freshmen and sophomore advisories to get more players to sign up,” Ingram said. “This ended up filling the sophomore team and almost filling the freshmen.”
There’s no shortage of details to ensure that the night goes smoothly.
“While trying to get teams together, you also have to find officials, people to do chains, and equipment,” Ingram said. “You also have to ask the band and cheerleaders to attend and perform.
“It takes multiple days to get around to asking everyone. Also, this year we decided to change it up and go with teachers for the chain gang.”
The workload doesn’t end with securing commitments from the working personnel.
“After everything is all organized, then the concessions need people to work them,” Ingram said.
“This year has been challenging finding people to work concessions, because during the powderpuff game, there are also other (high school) sporting events going on.
“This takes people away from being able to help.”
Ingram has assistance.
“Something that makes organizing easier, is the committee,” she said. “There is one committee designated to powderpuff. On this committee, there are six people this year.
“However, out of the six, four are freshmen who have never experienced powderpuff. That being said, they have taken it in stride and given it their all.”
While the basic rules of football are followed once the girls are on the filed — for instance, 10 yards needed for a first down and four tries to gain that yardage — there’s one major difference between the schools in how the rosters are determined.”
M-S sponsor Jamie Colbert said, “The event is open to any girl who pays the $15 entry fee and turns in a medical waiver.”
Not so at SJ-O. Any girl participating in a fall sport is not allowed on the field for the powderpuff game.
“It is certainly challenging to get the student body involved in something that only some can participate in,” Ingram said. “When a good majority of the girls in the school are involved with a fall sport, it makes things difficult.
“I feel as though this year is more successful and definitely more organized than last year. Instead of waiting until the week before, I have been working hard on getting everything ready since the end of August.”
The exclusion of fall-sport athletes, SJ-O sponsor Jeff Kieffer said, is “at the request of our coaches.”
Setterdahl expects the SJ-O senior roster to include 15 girls.
“Around 15 girls playing for the senior team is about perfect,” Setterdahl said. “Everyone will get plenty of playing time, but it’s nice to be able to give some players a break.”
McNamara is not only in charge of the M-S game, but she will also be on the field.
“The event is a lot of fun for everyone involved,” McNamara said. “This will be my fourth year playing, and it is my favorite part of homecoming week.
“Not only are the games themselves fun, but the practices can even be a bonding activity for each team. Being on the senior team, I’ve seen us get closer every year and have a great experience doing so.
“It’s a great way to unify the student body during homecoming and compete with other grades. The school spirit both leading up to and during the game is truly awesome.”
Participation is an emphasis at M-S and not just for the powderpuff players.
“We try to get as many people involved as possible,” McNamara said. “During the games, students and community members can vote for their favorite players (MVP, Best Offense, Best Defense, and Best Wipeout).
“Winners of the voting win gift cards. Also during the game, a small group of Student Council boys announce plays and hype up the crowd.”
At Mahomet, there’s no shortage of girls wanting to get in on the powderpuff action.
“There are between 25-50 signed up per team, with the freshmen having the largest team,” McNamara said. “The teams are huge this year.”
SJ-O’s Ingram believes the powderpuff game benefits school spirit.
“It helps by bringing together the teachers and students, and allowing them all to have fun together for one night,” Ingram said. “Getting to know some of your classmates better leads to a tighter knit group of students.
“This means that they participate more and cheer each other on during the sports seasons. Because we are a small town, we are all already pretty close, but coming together and having fun just brings us closer.
“You get to forget about the cliques and enjoy hanging out with everyone. You also get to see the teachers outside of just the classrooms. The friendly competition also helps.”
At both schools, the competition will start with the freshmen class playing the junior class, followed by the seniors taking on the sophomores.
The two winners will meet off in the championship game.
SJ-O will start with player introductions for the first game at 7 p.m. on Tuesday.
The first kickoff at Mahomet will take place close to 7 o’clock on Wednesday.
At M-S, a 15-minute running clock is used for each half.
SJ-O’s setup a seven-minute clock per half.
The student coaches take their roles seriously, scheduling practices and creating a game plan.
“Writing up plays is probably the most difficult thing to do as a coach because you always want to do much more advanced (plays) than the girls are prepared for,” Setterdahl said. “I think every freshman class comes in with 20 different plays and then realizes they only need four and just end up overcomplicating things.
“There is a balance, though. You can’t make things too simple, but it is easy to get caught up in designing elaborate plays that require too much from the girls.”
As for positions, Setterdahl said there is one rule of thumb.
“We don’t want to force anybody to play a position they don’t want to do, but the fastest girls always play quarterback and running back,” Setterdahl said.
Practices help to get everyone on the same page.
“We usually have one or two practices to explain the basics to the girls before it’s game time,” Setterdahl said.
Setterdahl hopes one change will be considered in the future.
“One thing that could make powderpuff more fun is the allowance for athletes in fall sports to play in the game,” he said. “I know that the coaches don’t want their volleyball players getting hurt, but it really isn’t any more physically demanding than their practices every day.
“It would just greatly increase the amount of players each team could have and could make it even more fun.”
With the smaller roster sizes, Ingram believes the luster of the powderpuff game is diminishing at SJ-O.
“I think this event has been slowly losing its meaning throughout the years, but it still brings everyone together,” Ingram said. “The people involved all enjoy holding practices and playing in the game, but getting everyone to that point is difficult. This year, more than ever, we have been hearing things such as ‘why should I even play? It’s not going to be fun.’ This makes it hard to motivate the girls to sign up.”
“It is one of the few events that truly brings everyone together, because, even if you can’t participate, it is just as fun to watch.
“The teachers and students are all in good spirits after the games. It makes the next few days leading up to homecoming a blast.”
For Ingram, her participation has been eye-opening, but also positive.
“This experience was difficult and stressful, but incredibly rewarding in the end,” she said. “Actually getting girls to sign up this year made it all worth it.
“Being the one in charge of making sure everyone was contacted and knew what was going on was a tad stressful. But I made a list in order to keep track of everything that needed to be done.
“As we’re nearing the game, I can safely say that I feel like it will be a success and it makes me especially happy. It’s like my little baby, and seeing it blossom into something great makes me feel like a proud mom.”