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Flag Football: BHS To Carry Long-lost City Banner At Home Games

Jul 29, 2017

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Coaches will tell you that sports, like life, is all about overcoming obstacles.

With a little over a week remaining before the opening snap of fall practice on Aug. 7, the Bloomington High School football team has already cleared one hurdle in its plans for the 2017 season.

Aiming to instill some pride in community, as well as America and good ol' BHS, senior quarterback Colton Sandage thought it would be fitting for one of the co-captains to be waving a Bloomington city flag alongside Old Glory when the team took the field for its games this season.

Second-year head coach Joe Walters was very receptive to Sandage's idea.

"When I coached at (Peoria) Notre Dame we would fly the City of Peoria flag at our games and the kids loved the idea of representing the city," Walters said, adding that a bonus was that it used to get "under the skin" of the players at rival Peoria High.

Sandage and Walters faced a two-fold obstacle in their flag-waving game plan, however. First, they found out that the city doesn't currently have a flag. Second, they learned that there might not have ever been one, period.

"I asked some old-timers and they said, 'no, we don't have a city flag,'" said Assistant City Manager Steve Rasmussen, originally tasked with Walters' request.

Like a good running back hit behind the line of scrimmage, however, Rasmussen kept his legs churning in the form of doing a little internet research.

As it turns out, there once was a city flag that hung in the council chambers beginning in the 1960s before being taken down and, for all practical intents and purposes, disappearing.

Armed with the info from The Pantagraph archives, Rasmussen then went on a hunt through the storage nooks and crannies of City Hall. A quarterback spotting a receiver alone in the end zone couldn't have been happier than Rasmussen when the long gone and forgotten banner was located, buried in the bottom of a desk drawer.

He turned it over to Walters, who's been keeping a close eye on it since the discovery.

"It's at my house right now," he said. "I'm looking for a pole for it."

He and the team also may be looking for a new design.

The flag in Walters' possession was designed in 1960 by Bloomington businessman Robert Popelka, who received a $25 savings bond for his efforts as the first-prize winner in a Pantagraph-sponsored contest.

"Colors used in the Popelka design are yellow, blue and white," reported the July 10, 1960 edition of The Pantagraph. "Central design is an ear of corn surrounded by a circle of white stars. The flag is blue with a yellow stripe at the end."

"We don't have a lot of understanding of what the stars mean, why those colors and so forth," Walters said, adding that the official Bloomington city logo seen on the police cars and fire trucks might be a nice fit on a new banner.

Sandage, also a key player in the basketball team's run to the state finals last year, sees huge significance in flying the town's colors at the games.

"We're the only (public high) school in Bloomington, so everything we do is representative of the city of Bloomington," he said.

Walters agrees and likes the added symbolic motivation for the players.

"Bloomington's a great city and this gives the kids a chance to play for something bigger than themselves," he said. "They can play for their teammates, the school and for the community."