As my friend Anthony and I drove down 95th Street in Naperville, Ill. last week, he slowed down as he approached his high school alma mater.
Having graduated from UNT in May, he was in Texas long enough to know how much high school football is revered in the state. He marveled at the atmosphere when he saw former Plano West standout Jackson Jeffcoat maul offensive linemen before he went off to Texas.
So he knew I would get a kick out of seeing what a premier high school football stadium in Illinois looks like. And when we drove past it, I was in complete disbelief.
Just take a look at that picture, and imagine, oh, Ryan squaring off against Cedar Hill in there. Then imagine both of those teams, oh, playing in the playoffs there. Can you imagine it? Me neither.
There was a small set of bleachers for the visitors and a rather modest set of bleachers for the Wildcats. It’s a grass field, and on this morning, the goal posts looked like they had been sawed in half. Don’t even ask me where the JV kids played their games. You don’t want to know.
To describe Neuqua Valley properly, the school and its city must be put into context. Neuqua is located in Naperville, a suburb of Chicago located about 30 miles west of the Windy City.
The U.S. Census Bureau states that the median household income in Naperville is approximately $105,585, which is almost $7,000 higher than Allen’s median income. Neuqua is one of three high schools in Naperville.
Allen, as you will most likely recall, built a sparkling new $60 million stadium that debuted last year.
In the state’s highest classification, Neuqua made it to the Class 8A state semifinals last year and lost to Chicago’s Mt. Carmel, the eventual 8A champs. If you go to the four-story flagship Nike store on Michigan Avenue in downtown Chicago, the Neuqua logo is the only one you can properly take a picture by on the wall boasting Chicagoland’s most prominent high schools.
As I chided my buddy and his family on their alleged football stadium, they were sure to bring up the school’s academic accomplishments and its achievements in other sports, like swimming.
Neuqua is ranked by the U.S. News and World Report as the 23rd best high school in Illinois and 563rd in the nation. Alllen, conversely , is 113th in Texas and 1,182nd in the nation.
There’s always been the athletics vs. academics argument, and I’m certainly in no position to make an argument in either direction.
Neuqua Valley will look to return to the Class 8A Final Four, where they will once again hope to host playoff games in the alleged stadium off 95th Street and Wildcat Way.
Hopefully they’ll have some turf to play on in a few years, too. It just goes to show that what goes on around high school football in Texas is something you won’t find anywhere else.