Joanna Chadwick: How a football game becomes an event

10/20/2011 12:00 AM

10/21/2011 8:21 AM

High school football on a fall Friday night just feels right, as if it is the place I was meant to be all along.

When I walk into a stadium before a game, there's so many people bustling around, readying the concession stand, preparing the raffle tickets, fans searching for the best seat.

And there's that smell of hamburgers grilling and popcorn popping.

All this while the music rocks and the players stretch.

High school football has a powerful connection that goes beyond the players, coaches and parents.

It extends to the school community, sometimes the entire town.

Schools relish that connection and they're trying to strengthen it by making it more of an event.

That's what Maize district athletic director Marc Haught calls it. And it begins right after school ends.

There's the football moms preparing the pregame meals, football dads setting up for pregame introductions.

"It is an EVENT," Haught wrote in an e-mail. "There is nothing like it that engages the entire school and community."

If you think Haught is overstating Friday football games, head out to a Derby game.

That is an event.

Derby packs its game nights with fun, excitement, constant goings-on.

There's the usual happenings — the cheerleaders' routines, the dance squad, the band. Those are all important.

Coach Brandon Clark wanted to make the games even more packed, though.

"We always talk to our players about making it a celebration," he said. "Our seniors, like this year, they only get four home games, so we try to make it a big party whenever we have a home game."

Whether Derby (5-2) is winning like it usually does, or not, the community support is strong.

It's been especially so this year. It's difficult to make it from the concession stand back to the stands because there's so many people milling about, including those who have brought their lawn chairs and sit on the grassy area in front of the stands.

Music is constantly blaring. If it's not the band, then music over the PA system is played from a specific playlist.

"We always try to keep something going," Clark said."... Green is magic, and it is pretty magical. I'm lucky to be a part of it. The players know it, and we talk about tradition a lot.

"Recently, we have tried to make it more. Any dead time, what can we do to make it fun? We only have four or five (home games) a year. We want to take advantage of it."

The home opener against Maize was Military Night. Armed Forces members roared around the track on motorcycles.

There was also junior football night, which involved 250 players who brought their parents. Then there was homecoming, and finally, at the season finale on Oct. 28, senior night against Heights.

Derby isn't the only one that makes it an event.

South High has worked this year to increase student involvement. There's the T-shirt launcher and free hot dogs for the students who show the most school spirit through outfits, face painting and cheering. The booster club sells $5 T-shirts to students during the week.

Bishop Carroll consistently draws strong crowds — and many are in the parking lot well before the game, either tailgating or eating pregame food.

Southeast and Mulvane football teams always end their games, home and away, by singing the school song with the fans.

There may be more extras now at football games than in the past, but the constant, the community involvement and the pageantry, that's what makes these nights special.

About Joanna Chadwick

Joanna writes about high school sports, which she has covered since 1996, shortly after graduating from the University of Missouri. Chadwick, who interned at the Kansas City Star and Sports Illustrated before coming to The Eagle, has followed sports since she was a child growing up in Minnesota. Sadly, she's still a fan of the Minnesota Vikings and Minnesota Twins.

Contact Joanna at 316-268-6270 or jchadwick@wichitaeagle.com.

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