It's Eastern Illinois University's Homecoming weekend, and alums are returning to the area amid a slate of good news.
Alumni and area residents alike have a lot to smile about these days.
Oh, let us count the ways.
New figures show impending good news for the university's enrollment. After years of sliding numbers of students -- largely due to fears and other issues related to the longstanding state budget impasse -- forecasts are for rising numbers in coming years.
EIU again is rated No. 1 in Illinois among universities of its class and No. 8 in the 12-state Midwest. That's a huge academic feather in the Panthers' cap.
For today's main events, the fall weather in Charleston is forecast to be absolutely beautiful. The sun is expected to shine down on reunions and the parade and other activities welcoming alumni home.
Just recently, Charleston won the Governor's Hometown Award in recognition of the work of many people to build and enhance trails around and adjacent to Lake Charleston, with stretches continuing to reach into the city. The beauty of the lake and trails and nearby woods can be enjoyed by all on this magnificent collection of paths.
Work continues on the trails between Charleston and Mattoon. Next year, alumni will have even more good news to welcome them back to EIU.
At Sarah Bush Lincoln Health System, the new cancer center is serving Charleston, Mattoon and the surrounding area. A new heart center is under construction.
And how about local sports? Teams and athletes are seeing their hard work turn into higher-profile successes.
The Charleston boys’ golf team won the 2A state boys title in impressive fashion. The Trojans came into that Saturday six shots behind St. Viator, but had the lead going into the final back nine by one stroke. Charleston then dominated. The Trojans went on to shoot a 292 on the final day to secure the 2A state title. It was a school record 18-hole round for Charleston and the two-day score of 599 was the lowest in Class 2A since Normal University won the title with a 583 in 2007.
This season marked the fifth straight year the Charleston girls’ golf team earned a trip to the Class 1A state tournament. Last year the Lady Trojans came home as the state champion and it was the first-ever team title in Charleston High School history. Plus Lauren Chappell won the individual title last season, giving her a record third individual title. No other female golfer has won three individual titles and only one male golfer has won three titles, putting Chappell in select company in Illinois.
The Mattoon boys’ soccer team is in the middle of an impressive four-year run. Today, the Green Wave have a chance to win their third regional title in four years and have 19 wins this season compared to only two losses. Jake Ghere, a junior, set the career scoring record for Mattoon already and goalkeeper Reese Bergstrom, a junior, set the career shutout record already this season. Mattoon won a program-record 22 matches last season and the Green Wave have only lost nine matches over the past four seasons.
The Mattoon girls’ basketball team won a regional title this season and have won 68 games in the past three seasons with Amanda Aydt as the head coach. The Mattoon softball program has won regional titles in 10 of the past 11 seasons, including a second-place finish at state in 2008 and a fourth-place finish in 2012.
The Mattoon boys’ golf team qualified for state in two of the past four seasons and Nick Nguyen finished in fourth place as an individual this past Saturday, the highest-ever individual finish in the program’s history. Mattoon’s Trevor Edwards made the state finals at 113 pounds this past winter and finished as a runner-up. Kira Wolf finished in sixth place at the 2A girls’ golf state tournament as a freshman last season, the highest-ever finish in the program’s history, and was 14th this past weekend.
The Mattoon and Charleston boys’ and girls’ track and field program has had a number of athletes medal at the state track and field meet.
The Charleston girls’ soccer team has won 56 matches over the past four years and haven’t had a losing season since 2003. The Charleston boys’ soccer team hasn’t had a losing season since 1993. The Charleston girls’ basketball team has won 63 games in the past three seasons and were the regional champion in 2014-15. Blain Mayhall took over the Charleston softball program in 2013 and the Lady Trojans have had a winning season in all five years and won 24 games last season.
The EIU football team comes into homecoming weekend with a 5-2 record and are 4-0 in the Ohio Valley Conference, setting up a key matchup with No. 3-ranked Jacksonville State at 2 p.m. today.
From something as simple as the weather to a slate of sports successes, a rosier enrollment outlook and more, EIU alums and area residents have a lot to be thankful for these days.
Let the celebration begin!
-- JG-TC Editorial Board