MADISON -- The 2016 Challenger varsity football team, comprised of student athletes from St. Ambrose Academy and Abundant Life Christian School (ALCS) in Madison, capped off their undefeated season by winning the WIAA 8-Man Football Jamboree Showcase game on October 29 effectively making them 8-man state champions.
The Challengers, representing the Great Eight South Conference, took on the Panthers from Prairie Farm High School of the Lakeland Conference at D.C. Everest Stiehm Stadium in Schofield.
Powered by 247 rushing yards and five touchdowns from ALCS senior star Obi Iwuagwu, the Challengers rallied from a 14-0 deficit in the second quarter to a 40-34 victory in overtime.
Years of teamwork
The state championship is the culmination of years of teamwork and dedication by the co-op Challenger football program.
Founded in 2010, the 8-man football partnership between St. Ambrose and ALCS helped to pioneer the sport in Wisconsin.
8-man football has grown from a handful of teams to nearly 30, which is the number at which the WIAA will add 8-man as an official division and sponsor a post-season, now planned for 2018.
With a combined high school enrollment of 116, St. Ambrose and ALCS have developed a sports partnership that provides enriched opportunities for students at both schools.
"Our co-op team works so well because at both schools, we have Christ at the center of everything we do," Head Coach Mark Martinez said recently at the Challengers' end-of-season banquet.
The two schools partner to field teams in girls' volleyball and girls' and boys' basketball as well as football.
In addition to forging tight friendships on and off the field and court, athletes pray individually and as a team throughout their games, inviting their opponents to join them for a prayer of thanksgiving after each home game.
"Being a part of this team has definitely helped me grow as a Christian as well as an athlete," said St. Ambrose senior William Donohoe, now in his second year as a team captain in football and basketball.
Celebrating the win
Donohoe added, "Football is the ultimate team sport in that all the positions depend on each other. If I miss my block, my teammate will take a hit. The final play of our season — Obi's overtime touchdown that won us the championship — was a perfect example of us clearing a path so that he could get to the end zone."
Challenger fans quickly surrounded the resulting pile of joyful players for an end-zone celebration that the nine seniors will always remember.
"It was by far the greatest moment in my life, so far," said St. Ambrose senior Justin Schmiesing, the Challengers' offensive MVP and receiving leader. "Words will never be able to describe the feeling."