LISLE – The 1963 Lisle football team is not described as the biggest, strongest, fastest or most talented group of athletes.
Instead, the ‘63 Lions are characterized by heart, unity and forever remembered as the community’s first champions.
The 50th anniversary of the squad’s Fox Valley Conference Championship over Lemont was honored at the annual Lisle-Westmont rivalry game on Friday, as 21 former players and cheerleaders marched onto the field during halftime and were received with a standing ovation by both fanbases.
It was part of a long weekend of communal parties and barbecues throughout Lisle – a testament to the lasting impression the team made on the burgeoning sports community.
Longtime resident and 1972 Lisle High School graduate Don Krause organized the reunion event, explaining that the Lions’ improbable run to glory is revered as the school’s first sports title as well as a point of pride within the community.
“Lisle’s first graduating class was in 1958, so all the sports, including football, were still in their infancy,” Krause said. “It was the most unlikely of circumstances – a coach with little experience, a new school – going up against storied high school football programs. But the community really got behind the team and supported the boys.”
Together, the ‘63 Lions had climbed the ranks from frosh-soph to varsity. Their head coach, John Ciesielski – a biology teacher who had little football coaching experience – remained with the team all three years, ascending from the freshman field to the varsity gridiron.
There was a sense of trust and cohesion, according to team captain Roland Jenkins, who explained that Lisle varsity went 0-4-1 the previous year so expectations were nonexistent.
“Nobody expected us to do much of anything,” Jenkins said. “So we were playing for each other, playing for our coach.”
In 1963, Lisle went 4-1 in conference and edged Lemont, 33-32, to capture the Fox Valley Championship.
“We had two losses and a tie out of conference, but we won four conference games,” Jenkins said. “It was a remarkable turnaround from the previous year. The final game against Lemont came down to the last play. Lemont scored a touchdown on a 5-yard run, but our special teams player blocked the extra point with his face.”
The next day – a Sunday – the team boarded 20 police cars and fire engines and was paraded throughout the village, hailed as the community’s inaugural champs.
“It was a surreal experience,” Jenkins said. “I have done a lot of things in my life ... But there is nothing I remember more vividly than the 1963 championship. That was the last time we would be together as a team – 50 years ago.”
“It has been a great experience catching up with everybody,” Jenkins added. “We have all gone on to do different things, but we will always share that championship.”
The team’s heroics were felt on a national scale as well. Following graduation, a majority of the football players went on to fight in the Vietnam War – some enlisted, some were drafted in 1969.
Locally, the 1963 Lions were praised as trailblazers – instilling hope in the community and influencing younger generations of athletes with their winning ways.
In 1963, Krause and his family had just moved to Lisle. Nearly 10 years younger than most of the team, he remembers watching the games and taking notice of players’ letterman jackets.
“I was good friends with a lot of the players’ younger siblings,” Krause said. “I thought the letterman jackets were the coolest thing. Just the way the team carried themselves, how they acted on and off the field. It made me want to play football.”
The championship game revisited
In 1963, the final game against Lemont decided the winner of the Fox Valley Championship.
The contest was a back-and-forth battle, as the Lions scored on their first possession only to relinquish the game-trying score shortly after. But, the Lions stout running attack, lead by Mike Adamec, proved to be the difference in the game. Adamec had 233 rushing yards and three touchdowns.
Receiver Bob Arlon caught touchdowns of 20 and 57 yards.
Still, the game came down to the final play, as Lemont reached the endzone and attempted to tie the game with an extra point.
But, the Lions Dwight Hoffman broke through the line and blocked the point-after kick with his face, giving the Lions a 33-32 win.
For photos and accounts of the 1963 season, visit lislelionsvarsityfootball1963.weebly.com.