The Southern Illinois University football team came to Chester Wednesday, June 22, to help clean up the community and provide a free mini football camp for kids. This was the second year Chester took part in the Salukis' annual Clean-Up Day program.
"I was raised in this area and really appreciate the great support we get from local communities on Saturday afternoons throughout the season," said SIU head football coach Nick Hill, who grew up in DuQuoin.
"The players realize this and have no problem giving back to those communities via the annual clean up days. This program also teaches the players the importance of community service and helping to make Southern Illinois a better place to live."
The Salukis split up Wednesday, with half headed to DuQuoin with Hill and the other half coming to Chester with SIU Director of Football Operations Brett Johnson. In the morning, players gathered at the Mississippi River to get their assignments from city Street Department employees.
"Many of the boys have never seen the Mississippi River or the countryside of Southern Illinois, so they are stoked and happy to be here," said SIU running backs coach Nate Griffin.
Players spent most of the morning walking the entire length of the riverfront -- from the water plant all the way to the railroad station -- picking up trash and doing other light work. Another crew walked the streets of Chester from downtown to city hall before lunch. By noon most of the main part of the city was clean.
Chester police officers provided traffic control while city workers showed the players the way through town.
After a morning of hard work, it was time for a break. The Chester Eagles Club prepared a delicious meal for the Salukis including fried chicken, potato salad, slaw, baked beans, bread, and soft drinks.
Mayor Tom Page attended the luncheon and welcomed the players and coaches. As a thank you for their efforts, Page presented Johnson with a donation to the Saluki football program from the City of Chester. Page was prepared to pay the Chester Eagles for their hard work in purchasing, preparing and serving the luncheon, but instead the Eagles donated the meal.
In the afternoon, the players hosted a free mini football clinic for 34 kids up to eighth grade at the Cohen Recreation Area soccer fields. It was a very hot and humid day, but the players loved working with the kids and the youth who attended were on cloud nine.
"The SIU players and coaches were fantastic working with the kids," said Bethany Weber-Berner, who served as the city's liaison for the event. "You should have seen the kids' eyes light up when they interacted with the collegiate players. They really loved it!"
The Salukis open their 2022 season Saturday, Sept. 3, in Texas at Incarnate Word. The season home opener will be Saturday, Sept. 10, when the Dawgs host local Ohio Valley Conference rival SEMO at 6 p.m. at Salukis Stadium. Saturday, Sept. 17, SIU travels to Northwestern to take on the nonconference Wildcats.
The Salukis would appreciate the support of the City of Chester at all five of their home games this season, including Saturday, Sept. 24, vs. North Dakota; Saturday, Oct. 15 vs. Western Illinois; Saturday, Oct. 29 vs. Northern Iowa; and Saturday, Nov. 12 vs. defending National Champion North Dakota State.