Friday. Opening Night is upon us once again.
There's still something about the first Friday night of high school football that sets apart any other season opener. For that matter, there's still something about high school football that sets it apart from all others.
Maybe it's that "once-a-week" thing. Unlike any other high school sport, football is what we lived for from Saturday morning until the next Friday night -- or, I should say, from Sunday morning until Saturday afternoon back when Rocket Hill didn't have lights.
So as we prepare for Opening Night 2011, I thought I'd share some random thoughts about what still gets my blood going when it comes to high school football.
• Friday Night Lights, of course. From seeing them shine driving down the hill to Memorial Field, or heading out Harmony Road in Huntley, if you're a true fan of high school football, the sight of those lights still gives you chills.
• Brats, pork chops, fresh popcorn. Did I mention brats and pork chops?
• Cheerleaders, poms and bands. There's nothing better than a jazzed-up halftime presentation. They seem to get better every year.
• The Town Jug. We have many good rivalries in the Fox Valley but none compares to the annual Elgin-Larkin game. It's truly the definition of "throwing out the records" when Elgin's two high schools collide at Memorial Field. Indulge my plea for a moment again -- please consider moving this game back to Friday night. That's when the real memories took place.
•Hearing the victory bell ring at St. Edward. It's been a long climb back to respectability for the Green Wave and now they have to sustain what they started in a bigger division of the Suburban Christian Conference. But something tells me the Victory Bell will ring at Greg True Field more often than not this season. And, oh, have I mentioned anything about pork chops yet?
• The playoff hunt. Thanks to the IHSA website, it's so much easier now to follow the playoff path. You really start paying attention along about the end of Week 3 and it becomes a Sunday and Monday ritual to start mapping out who is going to be in and who is going to be out. Another unique thing about IHSA football -- you have to play your way into the playoffs.
• Selection Saturday. Back in the day, when the newsroom was in the newsroom and not someone's home office, IHSA Selection Saturday was like our Mardi Gras. Pizza and soft drinks flowed freely as we awaited the pairings -- which back then came over the wire and not the yet-to-be-born Internet. And then the scramble to look at the matchups and get some immediate insight on teams we know nothing about ... it's a night people in my business truly do look forward to.
•New coaches. Let's face it, sometimes coaches move on and sometimes programs need a breath of fresh air. We have three new coaches in the Fox Valley this season with Vito Andriola taking over at Dundee-Crown, Rich Crabel at Burlington Central and Brad Seaburg at Cary-Grove. The neat part of it is that none of these guys are really "new", they've just now elevated their careers to running a program. We wish them all the best.
• Finally, community. No other sport, no other activity, brings high school communities together like football. And keeps communities together. I don't care if it's Elgin, Bartlett, Burlington, or Crystal Lake -- people come out to football games for years and years and years after they graduate, and many of them do so whether they have kids in the program or not. If you have a sense of school and community pride, the Friday night football game is the place to be.
So find a game tonight, grab a pork chop, and as you watch, realize that you are watching something special.