by Rebekah Cartwright, photography by Craig Borucki
It’s the lights. It’s the sound of the fans cheering from the stands. It’s the jolt of adrenaline and the feeling of cleats striking grass. It’s what two teams of young men, their coaches and a community of thousands have been waiting for all week.
It’s Friday night football, and it’s a local tradition.
On a typical Friday night, a crowd of more than 1,000 people come out to Sheppard and Myers Field to support Hanover High School’s football team, while 3,000 to 5,000 fans gather at South Western’s stadium to watch the big game.
By game time, the players and coaches have already done everything that they can to make sure their team plays its best, not only for themselves, but for the community that has come out to support them.
For Brock Geiman, a senior at South Western High School, football is a family tradition. Growing up, he watched his dad coach football, and he knew that he wanted to play when he got older. Now, as the quarterback for South Western, he thrives off of looking up at the fans from the field and trying to make them proud.
When it comes down to it, though, he knows the results of the game depend on how well he and his teammates work together.
“Friday nights, everyone is there watching, and with it being so physically demanding, the only people you can rely on are your teammates,” Geiman said. “They’re my brothers on the field, a concept a lot of people really can’t understand unless they play the game of football.”
That’s the best part of the game for Kyle Krout, the quarterback for Hanover High School. The high school senior spends the hours before a game trying to get his teammates pumped up and ready to put on a good show for the crowd.
“Everyone on the field has to give it their absolute all every single play, and if one piece is missing, the play will crumble,” Krout said.
As the football coach for Hanover High School, Bill Reichart finds that the bonds the players form with each other help to build character and serve as motivation for the young men to try their hardest both on and off the field.
“We are given the opportunity to organize and influence the success of young athletes through the positive character-building experience of football,” he said. “There is no greater reward.”
According to Reichart, watching these young men playing their hardest and giving it their all is what attracts such a crowd.
“The pageantry of a high school football game rekindles a sense of tradition and community,” he said. “The physical nature of football stirs primal thoughts and feelings. The competitive nature of the teams and their fans evokes a clarity of focus and purpose.”
As the athletic director for Hanover, Mike Bauer would agree wholeheartedly. He never has to worry about whether a crowd will show up or how big the student section will be because of that sense of tradition.
“This community is somewhat of a closed community. It’s also a close community,” he said. “There’s a lot of pride. A lot of people who went to school here are settled here. There’s a small town atmosphere where people want to support their school. It’s traditional.”
It’s not just the game itself that brings people together and forges memories that last a lifetime; it’s the atmosphere as well. From the snacks at the concession stands to the sound of the band playing “Louie Louie,” there’s something about football games that make them unforgettable for not only the players, but also the crowd, the band and the cheerleaders.
Larry Blocher can attest to just how unforgettable the memories made at football games can be. As a member of Eichelberger High School’s band, he’ll never forget preparing to cheer on the team and entertain the crowd.
“We would meet at the high school band room and then march to the football stadium, play for the game and perform a halftime show or, if the other school did their drill at half time, we would do ours at the end of the game. At football games our goal was to do a better performance than our opposing school band, like a competition,” Blocher said.
Its memories like those that Diane Topper, the cheerleading coach at New Oxford High School, hopes the students she works with will look back on and smile.
“Being a cheerleading coach is very rewarding in many different ways, but my favorite part of being a coach is knowing that I have helped the cheerleaders become a more rounded individual and to see them have fun with their squad members,” she said. “Just to see a smile and know they enjoy what they are doing is great.”
As the football coach for South Western High School, Damian Poalucci has made plenty of memories, watching his players succeed and seeing the community come together to support them.
“I am lucky to coach great kids that take pride in their school and the football tradition we have at South Western,” he said. “We live in a great community that comes out to support us and our school in so many ways. There is nothing better, in my mind, than being at a South Western football game on a cool fall Friday night.”
With all the hype about high school football, one might think that all of that effort is aimed at achieving one goal: winning. But for many of the coaches and athletes, a job well done and playing honorably is enough of a win.
“Wins and losses for me are secondary. I want the stability. I want the kids to enjoy the sport,” said Bauer, Hanover’s athletic director. “Obviously winning helps, but you can be successful in other ways.”