Maurice Scott Jr.

The upcoming football season in the Southwestern Conference will look different in many ways, especially on the sidelines.

First, it was announced that Collinsville will no longer compete in the Southwestern Conference in football. For some unknown reason, the Kahoks will be competing as an independent.

There will be a different look on the sidelines as well, as both Belleville East and O’Fallon hired black head football coaches for the first time in the history of their respective schools.

Belleville East hired former McKendree University assistant Mike Harrison Jr. as its new head coach while O’Fallon hired Byron Gettis for its head coaching position. Former Southwestern Conference member Granite City also hired a new black head coach for the first time when Orlando Gooden was hired in January.

A former prep standout at Bloomington (Illinois) High, Harrison was an All-American player at McKendree. He spent two years as an assistant coach at Lindenwood-Belleville as well as his two years at McKendree on the coaching staff.

Harrison has deep East St. Louis family roots as his mother, Nicola, was a cheerleader at East St. Louis Assumption and his father, Mike, was a three-sport standout at Assumption, where he played football for legendary coach Jim Monken, who recently passed away. In addition, Harrison’s uncle is former Assumption football star and NFL All-Pro Eric Wright.

“I’m really looking forward to the upcoming season,” Harrison said. “Obviously, you have to be ready to compete every week in the Southwestern Conference. Our focus is to make sure that our kids are having fun and playing with a lot of enthusiasm.”

Byron Gettis took over the helm of the O’Fallon Panthers in March as he replaced Brandon Joggerst, who resigned after 12 years on the job. Gettis returns to O’Fallon, where he was an assistant coach after graduating from McKendree in 2011.

In addition, Gettis was also an assistant coach and the athletic director at Cahokia, a school where he was a two-sport star in football and baseball. He was drafted by the Kansas City Royals in the Major League Draft.

“I’m really looking forward to running the program here at O’Fallon,” Gettis said. “It’s an established program with an awful lot of good athletes. I want to come in and put my stamp on the program.”

Orlando Gooden takes over the program at Granite City after the resignation for Brad Hasquin in January. Gooden was a former standout at Cahokia High before moving on the collegiate ranks, where he played at the University of Missouri and Indiana State University.

Gooden inherits a team that made the IHSA Class 7A playoffs last season. The Warriors will feature one of the top players in the metro east in senior quarterback Freddy Edwards.

Never would I have thought that Belleville East, O’Fallon and Granite City would hire black head football coaches, let alone in the same year.

I’m now waiting to see when black head coaches will get hired in other sports in the Southwestern Conference outside of East St. Louis.

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