In the shadow of Kings Island, one of America’s great theme parks, sits Kings High School, home to the Kings Knights. Situated in beautiful Kings Mills, Ohio, the school encompasses a much larger area, gathering students from Deerfield Township, Maineville, and South Lebanon. One of many great suburban high schools around the Cincinnati area, Kings competes in Division 2 in Football, signifying that Kings is among the larger schools throughout Ohio High School Football. Kings High School is where I found myself for my second High School Fan Experience!
Week two of High School Football saw Kings return home after a huge win over their nearby rival, the Lebanon Warriors, on Lebanon’s home field. However, Kings now had the dubious task of taking on the Lakota East Thunderhawks, one of the largest schools in Southwest Ohio, and a school that employs a deceptive Triple-Option Offense.
Before the teams even took the field for warmups, I could tell that the night was going to be bizarre. Rain, wind, and unusually cold weather for the beginning of September had encompassed the Ohio Valley, leaving many fans to leave the shorts and t-shirts at home in favor of heavy raincoats and long pants. The weather was poor enough that any tailgating that might have normally occurred did not take place. In addition, the Marching Band was only present for the National Anthem, with the Drum Line leaving after leading the team onto the field for player introductions.
With rainy and windy conditions present throughout the night, the play of the game was predictably sloppy. There were six combined fumbles lost, including the first offensive play of the game by Kings. Most of the fumbles were not caused by hard hits or stripping the ball away, but from the wet ball slipping out of the arms of the ball carrier.
Despite the sloppy conditions on the artificial turf, it was quite an exciting game. After falling behind 14-0, Kings came all the way back to tie the game 21-21 just before halftime on a spectacular 87-yard run by Nak’emon Williams. As the game progressed, it was clear that Kings was having a difficult time stopping the top notch running game of Lakota East, who continually ran right at the teeth of the Kings defense with their top rusher, Jack Dobrozsi, who ended the game with an astonishing five touchdowns.
While trailing in the fourth quarter, Kings was able to score a touchdown with 9:17 left, cutting the Lakota East lead to 34-27. Unfortunately for the Knights, the Thunderhawks were able to run out the final nine plus minutes without allowing Kings the chance to tie the game. A series of successful third down runs prevented Kings from regaining possession, allowing Lakota East to escape with a 34-27 win over Kings.
Three times Kings was down by two touchdowns, and all three times the Knights fought their way back into contention. The Knights showed a resilience that deserves a lot of credit. It did not matter whether a play succeeded or not for Kings, their players were supportive of one another, picking each other up after poor plays and commending everyone on productive ones. It is not every day that you see the level of camaraderie I saw on Friday night.
As I previously mentioned, there was no tailgating due to the weather, nor was the marching band present to play at halftime or after scoring plays. Such an unusual set of circumstances has led to a bit of an abbreviated fan experience post. Nevertheless, these omissions did not result in a disappointing fan experience. If anything, the weather situation led to a unique experience for this fan.
Kings Stadium is a dual sided stadium, with the smaller visiting bleachers along the east sidelines and the home bleachers along the west sideline. Unlike some stadiums, the home bleachers do not extend down to field level, instead standing around eight feet higher than the field. Granted, the added elevation does help the sight lines, as the football field is surrounded by a running track.
The main entrance to the stadium for fans is the front gate, which is located behind the concession stands on the West side of the stadium. In a brilliant bit of design, the main gate is a drawbridge that you would see at the front of a castle, acting as the perfect gateway for fans entering the home of the Knights.
The concession stand, as previously mentioned, is situated behind the home bleachers on the west side of the stadium. Manned by parents and other volunteers, I was pleasantly surprised to see that, instead of standard menu boards, the concession list was provided on flat screen TV’s that would intermittently show portions of the live activity on the field. With rain affecting the evening, all of the burgers, hot dogs, and other grilled items had to be grilled under a tent where it was dry. Much to my delight, there was a selection of chicken wings provided by a local favorite of mine, Buffalo Wings & Rings, along with an assortment of sauces to choose from for your chicken.
Speaking of Buffalo Wings & Rings, the restaurant has a deal with Kings High School, wherein a fan who purchases a program with a signature of one of the players on the restaurant’s page wins a $25 gift card. The promotion apparently goes on at every home game, and only one lucky program has such a signature. In addition, by just wearing your Kings Knights spirit wear to the Buffalo Wings & Rings, which is located within one half mile of the school, you get a 10% percent discount off your bill after the game. Talk about a tasty postgame incentive!
The rain kept a good number of parents and fans away, but there were still plenty of people ready to cheer on the Knights that night. Ponchos and coats in tow, the fans that did arrive were passionate and proud of their Knights. In fact, on multiple occasions in the second half, the crowd was so boisterous and raucous that the press box where I was sitting was shaking from the noise. Fans were stomping on the bleachers, screaming and cheering their support, banging their cowbells, and otherwise making as much noise as was humanly possible that night to fire up their team.
Even with the insanity in the stands, the environment was completely family friendly. I worry, probably unnecessarily, when crowds become loud and explosive, that the chants and cheers will turn unsportsmanlike and perhaps profane, but that could not have been further from the case at Kings Stadium. Both fanbases, while increasing the energy level with each successive play, kept their cheers appropriate well timed. Considering how unruly an NFL crowd can become, it is always a welcome reminder to see high school football fans that are there for the fun and the spirit of the game.
Parents played a key role in several facets of the stadium experience. From the ticket takers to the concessionists, the first smiling faces that greet you at Kings Stadium are quite possibly the parents of the kids that are there to cheer on their Knights. Once inside the stadium, it is clear to see that the parents of the players are highly vested in the game itself. The fence along the track was lined with parents taking pictures of their kids on the field and rooting on as their boys fought for the victory. Proud parents were in plain view, and no amount of rain will ever prevent them from being there to support their sons.
Frankly, I did not think it was possible for The Red Sea, as the Kings High School student section is known, to top The Ship from Miamisburg the week prior. I was especially sure that the enthusiasm would not match that of what I saw the previous week due to the dreary weather.
My initial assessment could not have been more wrong.
To start, the theme for the students that night was supposed to be Hawaiian. Everyone was to wear Hawaiian shirts, along with other things you might find at a typical Luau. As you can clearly see, the rain and cold did not stop the students from wearing their Hawaiian gear. Many wore their shirts and shorts without a jacket or poncho, which baffled me at first due to the chilly temperatures and at times heavy rain, but I increasingly appreciated their dedication as the evening progressed.
As far as the cheering was concerned, I was blown away by what I saw at Miamisburg High School. Therefore, I assumed that the Kings students would not be able to match the intensity shown by the Miamisburg students.
That was before I heard them make a sound.
When I made my way down to the student section early in the second quarter, I found myself, on several occasions, covering my ears to protect my hearing from the roar that I heard from the students behind me. Multiple students had megaphones, while several students seemed to never stop cheering throughout the game, even when there was a timeout.
Without notice or warning, the students would frequently break out into the Seven Nation Army chant. For those of you that do not know what that is, the students would sing along to the opening guitar riff to the song Seven Nation Army, which is a highly repetitive musical riff. It is a common chant at sporting events, but difficult to pull off properly, since all those involved need to be on the same beat at the same tempo and singing the chant in the same key. Kings was as close to perfect as I have seen in a long time at executing the chant. It was on point, it was in tune, and, most importantly, it was as loud as I have ever heard it.
I was proud of The Red Sea by the end of the night. Despite the cold and the rain, they stuck it out until the end. Even in defeat, the students were strong and enthusiastic, and had everything to be prideful of after that game. If anything, these teens took the rain and made it a part of the fun, sliding down the aisles and trying to skate down the walkways on the slick metal of the bleachers. I was proven wrong on a rainy Friday evening in September, but I was happy to have assumed what I did. The Red Sea blew me out of the water that night.
It is understood that the lack of a marching band and tailgating was a little disappointing, but that could not be helped last Friday. I would not want to tailgate in that weather, so it did not surprise me that nobody else did either, with which there is nothing wrong. Additionally, no marching band did leave a bit of a void in the atmosphere, and I am curious of just what would have been added had Kings been able to allow their marching band to play that night. However, the fervor with which the students sang their fight song, as well as the intensity with which they cheered on their team, made up for the absence of the Kings Marching Band.
Even with the poor weather conditions, I could not have been more pleased with how my experience was at Kings High School for their game against Lakota East. It was a fun atmosphere, full of thrills, spills, cheers, and Buffalo wings. On top of that, the rain did not damper the palpable enthusiasm that was present throughout the entire stadium.
At the end of the day, I cannot control the weather, but what I can control is how I feel at the end of the day. I felt completely satisfied after my trip to Kings High School, and I look forward to returning someday!