The Madison La Follette Lancers beat up Waukesha West in the WIAA Division I football playoffs Tuesday night, starting on the very first play of the game when sophomore back DJ Fuller took the handoff 68 yards to the end zone. The final was 31-7, La Follette, and Fuller finished with 180 yards on 19 carries with two touchdowns.
Not bad, but it's pretty much what he's been doing all year. I saw him juke two would-be tacklers out of their pads on a direct snap a few weeks ago in the the Lancers' drubbing of East.
"So what?" you're probably thinking. The Badgers are playing Indiana this week and the Packers have Denver up next, so why is it necessary to care a lick about a high school squad?
Madison schools typically don't do well in the state tournament. Whereas suburban schools like Verona or Waunakee routinely advance deep into the playoffs, Madison schools, if represented at all, often fall in the first round. But La Follette has now won nine games in a row, many with impressive point totals. They are sound on both sides of the ball and feature dynamic athletes at the skill positions. Plus, their quarterback, lefty senior Steve Chapiewsky, is also their kicker and their star wide receiver, senior Cashton Craig, doubles as their punter. That doesn't happen often in the college or pro games.
Unlike other communities where great athletes are urged to specialize at the high school level, La Follette has a tradition for fostering multi-sport athletes. Both Craig and Fuller are standouts on La Follette's basketball team as well as the gridiron. Plus, with news of a melee involving students and parents in the school's hallways just a week ago, it's good to see the school rallying around something positive.
And then there's this: The vast majority of Packers and Badgers aren't from around here and they could be gone, for good, in as little as a few months. As much as fans want to believe that their big-time teams somehow represent community pride, such an attitude is patently ridiculous.
Brett Favre high-tails it back to Mississippi as soon as possible when the Packers' season is over. He might have a house in Green Bay or Ashwaubenon or whatever, but his home is down south.
But the kids who wear the La Follette uniform are our neighbors. They're representing the community and we know they have coaches and teachers who work to make sure they do it in a positive way. We might be big sports fans in Madison, but we typically keep it in perspective with respect to academics and culture and that's reflected in our city's high schools. Athletes are suspended if they're not making grades or getting into trouble, regardless of how accomplished or talented they are. The coaches are educators, not mercenaries brought in to win trophies or recruit talented prospects away from other schools.
Plus, it's fun to root for a hometown team and have a reason to listen to "High School Hysteria" on 100.5 FM or pay attention as Robb Vogel runs down highlights from a dozen games on NBC15's "Friday Football Blitz."
La Follette's next game in the state tournament is Saturday night, 6 p.m., against Milwaukee Marquette at Wauwautosa's Hart Park. Now, that's Madison vs. Milwaukee, public vs. private. What side are you going to be on?