T.C. Williams football team will emerge from the shadows Friday night, hosting the first game under lights in the schools history.
The game part reunion, homecoming and senior night has students, athletes, teachers, alums and residents abuzz. For more than four decades, T.C. students have had to follow their team on the road for what is the weeks most important night for fans.
Its an unprecedented event; theres never been anything like this, said head coach Dennis Randolph. And on top of it, theres a football game.
Neighbors worried about bright lights and the prospect of fights have hindered the tradition until now.
Plans for the game began after nearby Episcopal High School rented portable lights for a Friday night game in 2008, said Steve Colantuoni, executive associate principal of athletics and student affairs. They wanted portable lights rented for Parker-Gray Memorial Stadium in 2009, but by the time officials reached an agreement with neighbors, the lights were no longer available, he said.
After pushing the event back a year, officials decided on a late-season game, mostly because darkness falls earlier, Colantuoni said. They couldnt foresee the Titans in a do-or-die matchup, needing back-to-back victories for a playoff berth.
The students, players and staff are just beginning to feel the hype, Randolph said. He compared the hoopla to the weeks preceding the Super Bowl.
Its probably a distraction [for the team], but I dont know if its that bad, Randolph said. Weve played Friday nights, so its not like we dont know how to act. Its going to be a great event, exciting for everyone.
Randolph is right, according to Mayor Bill Euille. A T.C. graduate, Euille recalls the thrill of Friday night games from his high school days. They were bonding moments for the entire city, he said.
Im almost certain, despite the fact that homecoming was a couple of weeks ago, the enthusiasm about playing a game Friday under the lights will generate a similar atmosphere of a reunion, Euille said. When I was in high school we had a lot of camaraderie and a lot of rivalries. Whenever there was a night game against one of your rival teams it was exciting, but it also drew large crowds and not only the students and the faculty, but others came: neighbors and residents.
Thats the hope for Fridays game. While Euille doesnt know if he can make it hes recovering from q knee injury city council members, alumni and members of the famed 71 Titans team plan on attending.
We havent had a night game in Alexandria since I was a kid, said Vice Mayor Kerry Donley. It used to be fairly routine game thats been absent in Alexandria for 30 years or more now. Theres a fair amount of excitement.
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But the excitement isnt rubbing off on everyone. Joanne Lepanto, a past president of the Seminary Hill Association, said neighbors remain concerned about glare, generators and the crowd the lights will bring.
More troubling is the lingering suspicion school and city officials will use the game to advocate for the construction of permanent lights at Parker-Gray, she said.
I know that an agreement was reached between those neighbors and the school a few years ago that there would not be any permanent lights, and now we have this temporary lighting, Lepanto said. This is sort of the camels nose under the tent, how many more games might there be with temporary lighting?
Not many, concerning how much work went into raising $24,000 this time around, said Donley. He hasnt heard any talk of scheduling another night game. The focus is on pulling this one off without a hitch.
Its a special time and we want it to go without any difficulties, Donley said. There are schools in Northern Virginia in urban areas, like Yorktown and Washington-Lee. They have Friday night events and it has worked out well. I think obviously that [installing permanent lighting] is not the goal with this game, but it has worked.
The citys budget will be tight enough this year without worrying about renting out lights a second time or bringing in a permanent solution, said Euille. But if it is a success, theres no reason to rule it out down the road, the T.C. grad said.
Im comfortable in the experiment, he said. If it is successful, hopefully the school and community can come together and advocate for perhaps doing it for an entire season.
For every one resident opposed to Friday Night Lights in Alexandria, there are just as many for it, Randolph said.
Theyve been talking about lights here for 45 years, Randolph said. A lot of people are upset we dont have lights, so you have to counter that against the people who dont want lights.
Senior Jeff Maddox has been waiting for this game for an entire year. A basketball player, hes used to the attention his team receives through the season. Its nice to see the football team garner some of that interest, he said.
Ive been thinking about it since last year. I was really looking forward to that game, but then they cancelled it. Im real excited now, Maddox said. Theyve talked about it all day at school. Theyve been talking about this for two weeks.
He predicts Parker-Gray will be bursting at the seams Friday.
The cheerleaders are practicing non-stop for the game, said freshman Chris Kidd. He called it a special time for T.C.
That the Titans have struggled this season makes the game even more meaningful, he said.
Which explains why junior lineman Jose Urrutia is focusing on getting the win.
Winning is the most important part, he said. Big moments, youve just got to let them happen. This is a big moment for sure.