‘Everyone’s a panther in Lena’

Published: Nov. 25, 2022 at 10:34 PM CST
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LENA, Ill. (WIFR) - They say two is a crowd and three is a party. This was the case in Lena Friday evening as the community celebrates Lena Winslow’s third straight state championship.

Just hours after winning the Class 1A State Championship, the Panthers football team came home to a packed gym inside Lena-Winslow High School. While the players on the field brought home the trophy, the team off the field played just as important of a role.

Usually, the state championship is played in Dekalb. This year it was moved downstate to Champaign. The stadium changed for the Panthers but it didn’t change their chances of winning and it certainly didn’t stop their loyal fans from going all out.

“I guess they packed their turkey sandwich up for the ride and made it trip so it was great,” says Lena-Winslow School District Superintendent Tom Chiles.

The school district’s superintendent expresses how impressed he is with the consistent loyalty from the community to cheer on their local high schoolers.

“People never go away from rooting, whether they have a personal interest by having a son or daughter involved or just the community in general. It’s true community spirit. It’s great.”

“It’s cool to see all the coaches that have accomplished since I’ve been in school,” says fan Jason Fransen.

One fan says the team didn’t make it this far in the IHSA playoffs when he was a Panther but it’s cool to see the town bond over football.

“It just shows how much of a supportive town Lena is. I know Lena gets all the credit, but I mean Winslow you got Eleroy, you got all the small towns that go into Lena,” says Fransen.

The team’s support attracts fans new and old. One of those fans is in 8th grade and can’t wait to put on the panther helmet next fall.

“I mean everybody’s a panther in Lena. The whole town kind of lives like through the football team,” says 8th grader Gannon Dunker “All the junior high kids are no one wants to get like sounds in eighth grade. We just want to play football.”

“We truly do have the best community around,” says Senior Tight End Rowen Schulz. “The more we keep going the fans are just they love every second of it. So the bond grows between the team and fans after every single year.”

Schulz says it’s awesome to see their conference support each other when it comes to the state playoffs. Firetrucks from conference opponents were there to greet the team when the team returned to Lena Friday night.

The superintendent says if it was the other way around, he thinks the Lena first responders would be there to greet other local teams when they bring home the trophy too.