Top of the Morning, Sept. 10, 2023

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Fresh out of college, Eastern Illinois grad Tim Lee reached out to 11 friends in Oakwood to gauge interest in forming a neighborhood fantasy football league.

That was 35 years ago.

"Some of my friends were a little leery: 'What does Tim have us getting into?' " said Lee, who retired as Oakwood High's principal in 2021. "Here we are, still doing it."

On Wednesday, the men of the Oakwood Fantasy Football League gathered again for a 35th consecutive year, a streak likely unmatched in these parts. Year 1 took place at Lee's humble home on Avenue C in Danville; this week's draft was held at toney Danville Country Club.

"We've come a long way," Lee said.

The best part: Of the original 12 participants, nine are still involved. Eleven of the current 15 players have been playing for at least 31 years. Oakwood's Darrin Fletcher had the best excuse for being late to the party: In '89, he was playing for the Los Angeles Dodgers to start what would be a 15-year MLB career.

Back in the day, Lee said, players would wait for Monday's delivery of USA Today to figure out who won the weekend. He remembers prepping for the first draft by purchasing a tiny fantasy football guide at a Mattoon bookstore. "The biggest change has been bringing technology into it," he said.

The league is serious business for the Vermilion County crew — plus Champaign's Bill Brinkoetter — with records kept, trophies awarded and trash talk non-stop via group text.

"You hear about leagues that fall apart and guys getting tired," Lee said. "Somehow we've survived (through) marriages and jobs and children and retirements.

"The comradery is good and everyone comes in with a different personality.