Ryan Snell has been coaching the Medomak Valley football team since they formed a varsity squad in 2015 – but he’s never experienced an atmosphere like last Friday night.
There is as much energy as ever around football in Medomak Valley, now in its seventh season at varsity. The 2-0 Panthers came fresh from a 40-0 win over Winslow that established them as one of the leading players in Class C North this season, and the atmosphere under the lights for the team’s homecoming game against Nokomis was electric .
Fans queued long before kick-off to enter the stadium, with the line stretching from the entrance to the high school itself. For a Medomak team that shuts down between Friday night and Saturday afternoon games year-round, the scene at Waldoboro Snell only confirmed the former’s superiority.
“We don’t have our own lights, but we rent construction lights and get some of the local businesses here to sponsor them so we can have two or three night games a year,” said Snell, whose team beat Nokomis 35-0 for the first time starting 3-0 since the program’s inaugural season in 2015. “There’s just a lot more people getting together on a Friday night, and last Friday it was just phenomenal.”
More teams across the state that traditionally chose to play Saturday games have made similar swings toward Friday night competitions in recent years. The reason for this is simple: high school football is meant to be played by the glow of the Friday night lights.
Don’t get me wrong, football is special in almost every way. I’ve attended countless high school games in Minnesota, Missouri, Maryland, and Maine; I’ve sat in 100,000-seat stadiums in Ann Arbor, Michigan and Knoxville, Tennessee; I’ve been to Lambeau Field and even the old Metrodome in Minneapolis, where you could smell three decades of peanut fumes off the walls. Regardless of the setting, there is something so incomparable and magnificent about the game that no other sport can match.
However, there is nothing purer than what happens in the high school fields on Friday nights, especially in the tight-knit communities we have here in Maine. There is a special energy that you can feel from the players, coaches, cheerleaders, fans and everyone else in attendance. For a few hours, the autumn sky, the night breeze, and the lights illuminating the field make everything, no matter what’s going on around us, seem like it’s in the world.
Locally, Waterville has been one of the schools to have played its home games exclusively on Saturdays for the vast majority of the program’s history. But in 2015, the Purple Panthers began a tradition of renting out lights once a year to play their annual homecoming games on Fridays. Waterville has done it every season since.
For today’s head coach Isaac LeBlanc, it’s the best game of the year, bar none. During a training session on Wednesday afternoon, you could feel an additional momentum in the team’s preparation. This Friday night game against Spruce Mountain finally brings out the best in the Purple Panthers, who have won it every year since 2017.
“I’d be lying to you if I said there wasn’t something special about that game and that experience under the lights,” LeBlanc said. “These guys look forward to this homecoming game that we do every year. It’s become quite a tradition for us. It’s a great night for this community and this program.”
While Medomak Valley and Waterville have taken the spotlight for select games, there is one other school that has only started Saturday through Friday. Lisbon, which was donated lights a few years ago, has all four home games this season scheduled for Friday at 7pm.
Lisbon fans could have been forgiven if they hadn’t been enthralled by the idea of breaking with the tradition of Saturday games that had existed in this municipality since the program’s debut. After all, Lisbon without Saturday afternoon football is like Stonington without Hummer, Freeport without the LL Bean Store, or Baxter State Park without Katahdin. It just sounds a little wrong.
Instead, the reaction was overwhelmingly positive as Lisbon played their first-ever game under the Friday night lights two weeks ago. Even players who played Saturday games 60 years ago, like Dennis Turcotte, have expressed delight at the move. His son Kevin Turcotte was no different.
“The energy is really high,” Kevin Turcotte, father of current Lisbon player Connor Turcotte, told Sun Journal. “They got pumped up. They heard they (the lights) got their first year, and they’ve been dying ever since. I love it. I like Friday nights better than Saturdays. People are busy these days.”
Of course, that doesn’t mean Saturday games don’t have a place on the current high school football landscape. Saturday afternoons in Winslow are special; Saturday afternoons in Oak Hill are special; Saturday afternoons in Dexter are special. To say that these places can (or even should) easily abandon these traditions would be a misconception.
Here, too, other problems play a role. The lights needed to illuminate soccer fields don’t come cheap, and the state’s struggle to recruit more officials could result in more game days being staggered. But the strain of playing night games says a lot about how much Friday night football is appreciated.
“You get the kind of people that are together on a Friday and it really doubles the vibe,” Snell said. “The audience is more involved and the players are more excited. They have a better schedule when they get home from school and can do what they have to do to come back and play that night. It’s just better for everyone.”
More teams in Maine are discovering this as they move their games to Friday nights – and both high school football in the state and the atmosphere that surrounds it will be better off as a result.
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