In communities that make up ALAH, 'we're all one Knight nation'

Oct. 27—Want to purchase today's print edition? Here's a map of single-copy locations.

ARTHUR — You can't miss the windows of Frenchie's Boutique when passing through downtown Arthur.

Maddix Stirrett, store owner Jamie Monts' nephew, is the running back for the undefeated Arthur-Lovington-Atwood-Hammond Knights football team, which opens the IHSA Class 2A playoffs at 1 p.m. Saturday against Quincy Notre Dame.

"I just feel like the whole town is pretty much backing the team and excited," Monts said.

Like other establishments in Arthur's business district, Frenchie's is decked out in red and gold ahead of the postseason.

But Monts went the extra mile to show their support, with a large Knights logo painted on one window and "Fight like a Knight" adorning the other. Stirrett's No. 3 is painted inside a red heart on the shop's door.

"Our cheerleaders came around and did the windows homecoming week, and then the guy that washes the windows ... I let him clean it off after homecoming," Monts said. "And then at the beginning of this week, I decided I needed to make it flashy out there."

Supportive businesses and family connections are easy to find up and down the main drag in Arthur.

"Last Friday at the game, there were so many people," said Anita Krutsinger, whose daughter, Kimberly, is an ALAH cheerleader. "I have never seen that at school, so many people there before."

The Knights' run has energized each of the communities that make up ALAH, which consolidated into its current form in 2014. The four towns' collective population is 4,291.

Arthur Rotary Club member Kevin Huffman — a 1977 Arthur High School graduate — has noticed an uptick in school pride around the area in recent seasons.

"Ever since the schools merged together, you know, there's some people that didn't like it," Huffman said. "I think things like this just really help cohesion among the four towns."

Relative newcomers to the area have also found a reason to cheer for the red and gold. Leroy Allison has lived in Arthur for the last 16 years but hasn't been able to attend any games due to family obligations.

"Everybody I talk to is really excited to know what's going on there," Allison said. "I think attendance at the games is up quite a bit this year."

They've had plenty of reason to cheer as the Knights have won 34 games since Ryan Jefferson became the team's head coach in 2018.

Many of those wins — including eight of them in 2022 — were assisted by standout quarterback Kaden Feagin, now a freshman running back at Illinois.

"I don't think there's ever been a Division-I scholarship out of Arthur from any school, not just Illinois, any school, until him," Huffman said. "I see their numbers going up as far as the numbers on the team, and I think that his success kind of generated a lot more interest."

Simply Arthur communications director Angie Parsons' son, Jayce, took over under center for Feagin this season and has deftly guided the offense through its first nine games.

"Just the fact that just last year they were playing with (Kaden), there's something special about that, and that kid is the most humble kid I've ever met in my life," Angie Parsons said. "He's just amazing, so just to watch him succeed is amazing for sure."

The Knights' 42-13 win over then-undefeated Sullivan/Okaw Valley on Oct. 20 secured a Lincoln Prairie Conference championship and a spot among the Parsons family's favorite memories of the season.

"I think last Friday was the biggest victory for all of us," Angie Parsons said. "Not to just beat them by a touchdown, but we beat them by four touchdowns. It was just huge that we proved everybody wrong and came through on that."

There's plenty of pageantry planned for as long as the Knights' playoff run lasts. The Arthur fire department will feed the team a steak dinner, as is tradition before key playoff games.

Fire trucks from all four communities will be staged in the end zone to celebrate touchdowns during Saturday's game, before which the Knights' cheerleaders will host a tailgate.

Support has come in from all corners of Douglas, Moultrie and Piatt counties.

"All four communities and even the teeny communities within our district have come out together," ALAH athletic director Nathan Seals said. "We're all one Knight nation, pulling for all of our teams, not only football. I see the support growing for all of our athletic programs."

ALAH is among five undefeated teams in a loaded Class 2A field that also features seven 8-1 teams. The Knights have the upper hand as a No. 1 seed in the south part of the bracket.

Such would make a deep run all the more rewarding.

"I've got to give credit to the coaches and players for a tremendous season," Seals said. "Coach Jefferson has worked hard, and the players have worked hard, you know, since the offseason. He's built a program that I think the community in general is very proud of."