Still, Shannon admits that he grew weary of the constant battles—for equipment, for financial support—that he had to fight at East Side. East St. Louis, after all, is a city so poor that once it was directed by a court to cede ownership of its city hall in order to pay a lawsuit judgment. The companies that own local chemical plants have cleverly incorporated their own towns and pay no taxes to the city. One of the few infusions of cash, in fact, is for public education, and, therefore, as Solomon says, "grabbing a piece of that pie becomes an exercise in economic survival."
Shannon has given 24 years of his life to making sure his players have options besides hanging out beneath the Colt 45 billboards along East St. Louis's main drag. And, as Mark puts it, "If Bob is successful in changing the system, this will mean more to the kids of East St. Louis than winning any football championship, because it will change the future of education here for years."
But one senses that Shannon would gladly give up his position as East St. Louis's conscience in order to be, once again, just a football coach. In his years at East Side, Shannon had an .858 winning percentage—one of the highest in Illinois high school history.
"After all we've done in the past, the things we still have to tolerate in order to succeed...," Shannon says, shaking his head. Then he mentions that he still has a copy of a 1988 SI article about Valdosta, Ga., a town where high school football was so important that the team suited up 108 boys for home games.
"Boy," Shannon says wistfully, "I'd love to coach in a place where people support you like that."