Palatine football's home opening game against Rolling Meadows from Friday night will be a memorable one.
Not for the teams that played in the game, not for the outcome, or the X's and O's of it all. No, instead it will be remembered and cherished as a night where a community came together to honor and celebrate the life of an incredible athlete and talented young man who passed far before his time.
Courtland Cornelius, a former member of the Pirates football team who tragically passed away at the age of 19 in late May, was honored in front of a packed Palatine house with an emotional ceremony before kickoff.
A framed picture of Cornelius was presented to his family prior to the game as the Palatine football team raised their helmets, all adorned with Cornelius' No. 7 on them, skyward in honor of their fallen friend and teammate.
"I'm very proud of our Palatine high school community in the way that they honored our ‘Once a Pirate, always a Pirate motto,’" said Palatine athletic director Jerry Dobbs. "The fans did a great job and it was a very touching ceremony we had tonight."
Throughout the week, the school sold t-shirts that read "Forever A Pirate" and "Court's Game" on them with the proceeds going to the Family Crisis Fund in Courtland's name.
"Any time Courtland walked in our office, he was happy and always had a smile on his face," Dobbs recalled. "And that was the cool thing about Courtland, you always knew you were going to get that from him."
During the game, the raucous student section, decked out in orange for their "Orange Out" theme, broke into periodic chants of "We love Courtblast!" that echoed through the rafters.
And even when the Pirates fell behind by 35 points midway through the third quarter, the chants never wavered. In fact, they seemed to grow louder in intensity and passion.
That spirit was contagious on the sideline as well.
With the Mustangs leading 49-14, senior leaders like offensive lineman David Balanganayi could be heard rallying his down-and-out teammates saying, "This is Court's game, play for Court!"
"We had a very emotional week of practice," said Balanganayi. "This whole season, we're trying to do this for Courtland. He was the greatest teammate you could ever ask for, and was always there for you, always making you laugh."
Rolling Meadows ended up winning 56-28 and by just looking at the final score, you'd never really know how hard Palatine played, how much they gave it their all on both sides of the ball. Just like Courtland Cornelius played.
"Courtland was the type of kid, a great kid, that played the way the game is supposed to be played- the Palatine way," said head coach Corey Olson. "He was 155 pounds soaking wet and yet, he was one of the best blockers on the team … he was a highlight reel waiting to happen … he was a part of both our semi-final runs and was a big part of it."
"It's tragic that he lost his life, but I know he'd give anything right now to be out here playing again."
For highlights of this game, click here.