The Deer Creek-Mackinaw High School football team received royal treatment Thursday morning in Springfield.
The reigning Class 2A state champions visited the State Capitol. There, Dee-Mack players and coaching staff met with Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner in his office.
"He's a busy guy, but he did carve out about a five-minute block to congratulate us," Dee-Mack coach Job Linboom said. "He said teams like us are what makes Illinois so great.
"He jokingly told us he played football in high school but wasn't very good. He could assure us his team did not win the state championship."
Afterward, the Chiefs were guests of honor at a pizza party held in the Hall of Flags at the Springfield Howlett Illinois Secretary of State Facility. Then, back to the Capitol, where the team was to be introduced in the House of Representatives chamber and visit the Senate chamber.
The Senate was not in session Thursday, according to state Rep. Keith Sommer, R-Morton, whose district includes Deer Creek and Mackinaw.
The House passed a resolution that acknowledged the Chiefs' 35-7 victory over Maroa-Forsyth in November in Champaign. The football title was the first for Dee-Mack, a perennial power that was 2A state runner-up 30 years ago.
A copy of the resolution was made into a plaque the school can place in its trophy case, according to Sommer.
"For the smaller schools, it just means so much," he said. "Dee-Mack has had a great program for many years but could not just quite get over the top. They did this year, and we wanted to make a special recognition."
The day appeared to be special for Linboom and his team. The coach said only one of his players had visited the Capitol before Thursday.
"I'm a civics teacher as well, so this is right up my alley," Linboom said. "To (the players), the government is kind of this nameless, faceless thing. I think it's great when they read and hear about Gov. Rauner, they can say he actually congratulated us and we got to see him and meet him.
"I like the fact that it makes government personal. It's really an educational field trip more than a football thing."