It's days like this I wish I lived back "home"...

Champions -- Park beats Wisconsin Rapids for WIAA Division 1 state football title
By Janine Anderson
MADISON - Students throughout Racine had a holiday Friday, as they left school early to make a trip to Madison to see Park High School win a state football championship for the first time since 1988.

Park let students out at 11 a.m., so they could load up the 23 fan buses and make the 2-hour drive to Madison to cheer on the team. Students crowded the courtyard, wearing fuzzy black Panther hats, Panther-paw-print fleece scarves, and with blue and orange paint on their faces and in their hair.

The entire school was showing its Panther pride. The Joan of Arc statue was all but blocked out by the Panther gear for sale. Buses lined up for blocks outside the school.

There was even a tailgate party: Brats, chips and a soda on sale in the hallway outside the band room. For $3.50 you could have all three, much cheaper than a similar meal at the stadium.

A sea of blue and orange - hundreds of Park students decked out to show school spirit - mingled with students from Horlick and Case who abandoned the Rebels and Eagles for the day, instead showing the Panther Pride that has spread through Racine.

If the tables were reversed, these Park students would be here, too, showing their support for whichever Racine team was playing on the Badgers' field.

"It's a home-team thing," said Erik Thompson, a Park sophomore.

That sentiment was found throughout the stadium, where people with old connections to the school found the time to make the trip to Madison to support the team.

"My daughters both graduated from Park," said Ken Smerchek of Racine. "Even though I graduated from Horlick, I'm here to support the team.

"Smerchek was sitting with Park alum Ron Grumley, and his 2½-year-old son Manus.

Despite the cold, the toddler was having a great time at the game. "He couldn't wait to come back out for the second half," Grumley said. "He kept saying `Football, football.' " Grumley graduated from Park in 1987, a year before the team last won a state football championship. The school's previous championship was on many people's minds.

"It'll be something to tell your kids," said Alyssa Charles, a Park freshman. " `When I was a freshman we went to state.' " She said her mom, a Park alum, was at the school in 1988 and has told them about it: "She said she thinks you need to experience it.

"All the students at the game, no matter what school they go to, were thrilled to be at the game, supporting this team.Chants of "Johnny, Johnny, Johnny" rang out for running back Johnny Clay, the team's star player. Students had panther paw prints on their faces, and hair dyed orange and blue. A few brave boys painted their chests and braved the below-freezing temperatures shirtless.

The spirit was infectious, with adults who spent the first quarter hollering at kids to sit down standing and cheering by the time Park scored its final touchdown.

"In our classes, (the football players) were so excited," said junior Lauren Schatzman, who played in the pep band Friday.

The game was mandatory for the school band. The other students sang along to the songs they played.When it was 28-9 and clear that Wisconsin Rapids would not be making a comeback, students sang "Na Na Na Na, Na Na Na Na, Hey Hey Hey, Good-bye." They pushed toward the field, crowding the walkway to get close enough to hug cheerleaders and players.

They counted down the seconds with the scoreboard, bursting into screams as the clock stopped, sealing Park's place as state champion.

"It rocks my world," said Carissa Heckel, a Park junior. "We have the best football team in the world. This was a blast. I'm glad we won. This is definitely the top.

"She doesn't expect to forget the experience any time soon: "I'll tell my children about this. Hopefully they'll get to experience the same thing."

This is where I graduated high school... I am so proud to see that "we" did it, yet again!! Go Panthers!!!