BURGETTSTOWN – By 6 p.m. Friday, nearly 90 minutes before the Burgettstown football team would close its season by hosting Keystone Oaks, gates were set up at the concession stand to direct customer traffic, sweatshirts were neatly folded and ready for sale, and cheerleaders worked through their routines.
Most importantly, though, the lights at Hill Memorial Stadium were shining.
It had been two years since Burgettstown had hosted a Friday night football game after the field’s light poles were condemned and taken down because of safety issues, forcing Burgettstown to play its home games on Saturday afternoons.
Through a fundraising effort spearheaded by athletic director Jon Vallina, the school raised $61,000 to pay for the new poles and pressed the contractor, A-1 Electric of McMurray, to finish the project this fall in order to allow the seniors to play one home game under the lights.
“All day at school, people were coming up to me and asking, ‘Hey, what time’s kickoff?’” senior Graham Lescallette said. “I had butterflies all day. I could barely eat lunch I was so excited.”
The game turned out to be a dud – a 40-7 loss, dropping the Blue Devils to 0-9 – but the hope in this community is that the lights can restore interest in a once-flourishing program, to bring excitement back to football at Burgettstown.
“Hopefully, for years to come, tradition will come from under the lights,” senior John Dugas said.
Part of that involves the youth team, which also can resume playing under the lights on Saturday nights.
For a high school football player, there’s nothing like a Friday night game. The band is playing. People are cheering. An announcer calls out your name and number. The best party anyone can think of – in this case down a short, gravel road off Route 18.
“It’s a totally different atmosphere,” Dugas said. “High school football is ‘Friday Night Lights.’ It’s not Saturday. That’s JV. It’s a totally different emotion, different attitude.”
There’s almost a rhythm to Friday nights in Burgettstown, said Jefferson Township resident Royce Kotouch, who’s the president of the Burgettstown Lions Youth Football organization.
“On Friday, you come home from work, eat some dinner, then you’re going to the high school game,” Kotouch said. “It’s a big thing. It’s a lot bigger than most people think.”
Said the school’s superintendent, Deborah Jackson, “This is what we do on Friday nights.”
Vallina estimated that the school made about one-third its normal gate while playing on Saturdays. The youth league took a similar hit. Perhaps the ultimate test is this: The 50/50 was the biggest its been all season.
“It’s Friday night in Western Pennsylvania, and you feel like you’re missing out on something if you’re not playing,” said Vicky Faux, whose son, Nathan, is a junior on the football team. “It’s your home field, and you want to play under the lights.”
Several contractor, funding and bid issues delayed the process initially, but Burgettstown secured a contract late in the summer with an understanding that it would have Friday night football – at home – this season.
As of Sunday, no lights had been installed.
“I know I started to wonder whether it was going to happen or not,” said Vallina, who raised most of the money through alumni and local business contributions, some financed over two or three years.
With a little prodding, A-1 Electric arrived with the poles Monday, worked 12-hour days installing them Tuesday and Wednesday and was able to adjust the lights Thursday in time for the game.
One that allowed Burgettstown’s seniors to play one final home game under the lights.
“For some of these kids, this is the last night they’re going to put a football uniform on,” said Burgettstown principal Dave Palmer. “To be able to actually play on a Friday night ... that’s a big deal.”