EFFINGHAM — Effingham High School alum were excited to see the Flaming Hearts get to the third round of the state playoffs and some reminisced about their days on the football field under former Coach Drew Potthoff’s leadership.

There probably couldn’t have been more excitement in the crowd at Klosterman Field for the Effingham High School Flaming Hearts football game on Saturday afternoon played under the current Coach Brett Hefner.

It was the first time since the 1987 season that a Flaming Hearts team advanced so far in football, making it to the third round of the IHSA 4A football tournament. And some of the fans in the stands were excited to see the next generation carry on the success.

While still others returned to the grounds to be recognized for their past efforts of making it to state under Potthoff, who according to the IHSA Records and History website took the team to state three times, 1981-82 as a 3A team, 1983-84 and 1987-88 seasons as 4A teams.

“Football brings everybody together,” Luke Schuette of Effingham said of the support the community gave the 2018 EHS Hearts team.

Members of the 1987 team gathered for a reunion on the sidelines before the half time, when they were brought out and recognized for their successes more than three decades ago.

Kurt Endebrock, EHS Class of ‘88, played quarterback. He now lives in Cincinnati. Doug Koester, EHS Class of ‘89 was the team’s running back and line backer, of Effingham; and Jeff Ludwig, ‘89, was the wide receiver and cornerback.

“It’s really nice to be back with all of our friends again,” said Koester. “It’s been three decades and this is more of a reunion, too.”

Endebrock made the four hour drive on Saturday.

“It’s great to be back again,” he said.

He said watching the boys play brings back special memories.

“It takes me back, 31 years ago in the third round, to a day almost exactly like today,” said Endebrock. “It was a beautiful sunny day, with a little chill in the air. It’s exciting. It was an electric atmosphere.”

Now an assistant principal at a middle school in Ohio, Endebrock said the trip home was also a chance to gather with family still in Effingham.

“Effingham played a fantastic game,” said Endebrock. “They were in the game until the very end. They played unbelievably well. They put themselves in a position to win the game even with two minutes to play.”

“It’s been a long time for Effingham football – 31 years,” said Jeff Ludwig. “It’s a similar day to what it was 31 years ago. There were lots of people like this and it was an exciting day.”

Ludwig said EHS played Rantoul and was defeated, but he was hopeful the Hearts would come away with a win against Kankakee Bishop McNamara.

“We didn’t get it done that day,” said Ludwig. “They’re playing a tough team like we did back then.”

John Wesselman, EHS Class of ‘88, was excited to be there and be honored as a team member from the past and he came to see a win.

“My nephew plays,” said Wesselman before the game. “Hope they win. It would be kind of cool to pass along the title of the best team in Effingham to his team.”

EHS Athletics Director Dave Woltman said the success of this season was apparent.

“Every sport has its own excitement,” said Woltman. “This is another one that has seen a success for our school and community.”

Schuette, co-owner with Andrew McGee of Lickin’ My Chicken and Pullin’ My Pork BBQ, said the town was pumped up and “they should be.” He and Juston Gillum and Robby Lewis, co-owners of Effingham Elite Epoxy & Grinding, hosted a tailgate event at Elite Epoxy shop.

“It’s been 31 years since the team has been here,” said Schuette, EHS Class of 2001. “Juston Gillum’s son is carrying this on and my nephew is also on the team. It is a legacy. Why wouldn’t the town be excited?”

After Effingham’s 42-35 loss to Kankakee Bishop McNamara, Schuette was still pumped and said the support in the stands continued even after the game ended. Hearts finished the season with a 9-3 record. McNamara advanced to the semi-finals with a record of 11-1.

“They played a hell of a game,” said Schuette. “The boys played their butts off. They had one kid (No. 5 Tyshon King) that we just couldn’t stop. We had some unfortunate turnovers in the third quarter. But it was an awesome game. The support they got at the end of the game was awesome.”

Schuette said the Hearts put up 35 points against a very tough team.

Ashley Haarman, a 2004 EHS graduate, said when she was in high school the team went to the playoffs and her daughter wore her mother’s playoff hoodie to Saturday’s game.

“It’s great to see the whole town unite and really praise this event, despite what happened yesterday (threat of violence,) which was a lot of rumors. And it was really sad to take away that hype of cheer for the players and cheerleaders – but they are more pumped up now than before.”

Haarman said the Unit 40 administration had to take that situation seriously, rumor or not.

Schuette said Coach Mike ‘Mac’ McDonald was a big influence on him starting in junior high and still today. He’s retired but is still an assistant coach at EHS.

“I thank him for everything he taught me in life,” said Schuette. “I still call him Coach Mac. He was my coach. He’s a big factor is what we are doing today.”

Jesse Ruffner, EHS Class of ‘94, also played football as a defensive end and offensive guard, said this year’s team actually has gone a little further.

“The Class of ‘94, a lot who I played with, some have kids on this team,” said Ruffner. “That’s what’s so special about this team.”

Angie Wolfe, has two sons, Landon and Parker, both playing on the Hearts team.

“The community has totally showed support for the boys, and we’re thankful for that,” said Wolfe. “We’re proud of the boys. The town is definitely more decorated than I’ve seen it for Hearts football.”

EHS Senior Kaylee Phillips was among a group of other senior girls who were helping to pump up the student cheering section.

“I always bring about four cow bells and pass them out to people,” said Phillips. “I think we’re (the team) playing great. We could win this.”

EHS Freshmen Kennedy Sowell said she enjoys football and this season has been exciting.

“We have wrapped poles and signs with ribbon and there are a lot of signs as you drive to the high school to get people excited.” said Sowell. “This is definitely a bigger crowd than usual, but we draw a big crowd usually.”

For a photo gallery of scenes from the game, click HERE

Dawn Schabbing can be reached at dawn.schabbing@effinghamdailynews.com or 217-347-7151, ext. 138

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