There are not many opportunities to cover a fan experience that has never been seen before by the outside world. Fortunately for us, West Clermont High School opened just a few short weeks ago, leading to a brand new football team at a brand new football stadium. I knew from the start that I had to be there for a game in 2017.
While the original plan was to attend the opening game against Princeton, demand for entry to the game was so high that I was unsurprisingly turned away. However, I was determined to find a hole in my schedule to make the trip down to the new school for a game. As luck would have it, a last minute opening arrived, allowing me to make the trip to West Clermont High School for the first time ever.
West Clermont is the result of the West Clermont School District consolidating from two high schools, Amelia and Glen Este, into one high school at a central location. While Glen Este would have good seasons from time to time, Amelia was not known for their football prowess. Nevertheless, the combined school has shown promise on the football field thus far, sitting just two spots out of the Division 1, Region 4, playoffs with two weeks left to play.
As a campus, West Clermont High School is not complete as of mid-October. To be fair, the school building is complete and fully functioning, as is the football stadium and the surrounding parking lots. However, several athletic fields, including both the baseball and softball stadiums, remain incomplete, with only the fence posts marking where the field of play will take shape and mounds of dirt covering what will be the outfields of both structures. It will be interesting to see just how the campus looks when all of the facilities are complete by the end of the school year.
The evening was Military Appreciation Night at West Clermont High School. Included was the presentation of the colors by the Clermont County Retired Marines Color Guard, a group of men I had the honor of meeting prior to the opening festivities. Following the National Anthem was a salute to each branch of the armed forces, along with a recognition of each veteran in attendance that night. What an honor it was to meet such brave men prior to the game, along with watching every armed forces veteran stand with pride when their branch was called.
Without any indication of what to expect from the experience, I excitedly made the hour and a half drive down to West Clermont High School as the West Clermont Wolves took on the Loveland Tigers!
About two hours before kickoff, I arrived at West Clermont High School. Sitting in the south parking lot was a lone tailgater with his grill set up and ready to go, holding a cold drink in his hand. Dedication at its finest was on display in the form of a lone tailgater. Little did I know that it was a sign of things to come.
As the evening progressed, several tents popped up, many grills fired up, and rear gates of pickup trucks and SUV’s became de facto tables and benches for pregame parties. From one end of the massive parking lot to the other, fans of the brand new high school had planted their flags, figuratively and literally, in support of their Wolves. On top of that, multiple tailgaters and tailgate parties continued for several hours as the game progressed. Although they did not have a ticket, they could still catch a good view of the field from their cars and lawn chairs through the stadium fences.
Students had their own tailgate as well. Cornhole boards were set up near the school in a partitioned area of the parking lot just so the students could have a place to congregate. Accompanying the cornhole was music, which could be heard clearly from inside the stadium, despite the student party taking place about a football field’s length away from the nearest bleachers.
There was no doubt that the party before the game was just the beginning of what was set to be an exciting night for a new adventure.
You might not expect there to be very many fans of a brand new school, outside of the parents of students that attend it. That was not the case at West Clermont. I saw a few people still clad in their Amelia Barons and Glen Este Trojans gear before the game, and even saw a couple pitching Glen Este seat backs on the bleachers. However, the overwhelming majority of those in attendance had already grabbed the latest in West Clermont Wolves spirit wear and were wearing it proudly.
Every facet of the stadium experience involved some sort of parent volunteer work. The main gates, the ticket booths, the concession stands, even the public address announcing for the marching band were all the work of parents and volunteers. For so many people to step up for these kids is always heartwarming to see.
While the crowd was slow to arrive, by the time the game kicked off, you would have been hard pressed to find a seat for anyone other than yourself. From end to end, the home bleachers were packed with fans ready to cheer on their West Clermont Wolves, and they let their voices be known for start to finish. It would have been one thing for the crowd to be large for a new team, but for the enthusiasm to be at the enhanced level that it was put a smile on my face. I love seeing big crowds, but I cannot help but smile when I hear their passion.
The stadium at West Clermont High School was so new you could still smell the fresh plywood in the press box. While it is not the same as a “new car smell,” you can definitely tell that the stadium is young before you even walk through the gates. Whether it be the massive Wolf logo that adorns the main entrance or the freshly laid bricks at the concession stand, the new West Clermont Stadium shows no wear and tear, and likely won’t for years to come.
A grandstand sits on both sidelines, which is not unusual for many high school football stadiums. However, there was a first at West Clermont, as both grandstands contain a press box at the top. While the press box on the visitor’s sideline is for the visiting team’s coaches only, it was nevertheless unexpected and unique to see.
Concessions are always important at high school football games, and, fortunately for West Clermont fans, the concessions are easily accessible. With multiple concession windows and several options, you will not go hungry at a West Clermont game. Of note was the smoothie truck and the Snowie stand, where you could get a snow cone and then top it with whatever flavored syrup you wanted.
What caught my attention, and thoroughly impressed me, was the high volume of handicap accessible seating. It was not just that there were handicap accessible seats, but that there was a full row of these seats on both sidelines, and in both instances, there was ample space for even the largest of motorized scooters. Not only that, but the rows of regular seats were spaced so that seats and wheelchair openings alternated every eight feet or so, allowing wheelchairs to fit between every bench in each row. Such handicap friendly access is rare at high school football stadiums, and is a welcoming sight to those who may have a disability.
When you combine two high schools, it should be expected that clubs, ensembles, and other after school groups are going to be large. The West Clermont Marching Band was no exception.
I arrived to West Clermont High School early enough to hear the band rehearse in preparation for the game. They rehearsed in the south parking lot, while I was parked in the north parking lot on the opposite side of the stadium. I could still hear them loud and clear while I stood outside my car. I knew if that was any indication, I was in for a massive sound when the game began.
Following an emotional performance of the National Anthem, the band marched into place. Forming a pathway for the team to charge through, the fight song echoed out as the team emerged from the fog-filled tunnel in the north endzone. A momentous entrance such as that will not only psych up the players and fans in the bleachers, but the band members as well.
I loved what the West Clermont Marching Band was able to do. At halftime, every note was precise, and every marched step was perfectly timed, which is difficult to choreograph with such a large ensemble. With a strong selection of music, meant to signify the unification of two schools into one, the band was able to convey their message with pride. By the time the game was over, I was won over by the band, and completely satisfied by the sounds they were able to perform and create.
If there was one thing I was unsure of what to expect the most, it would be how I thought the students at West Clermont would cheer for their new team. Just one year ago, many of them would have considered each other rivals, attending schools that would compete against each other every year. Yet now they were supposed to come together as one to cheer on the same team? Needless to say, I had my concerns.
Within five minutes, all of my worries had been completely flushed away. Not only was the entire student section full, but the students were rowdy beyond comprehension. Several guys in the front row had their chests painted green with black lettering spelling out #TRASHTHETIGERS. In addition, each of these students held paint buckets, pickle buckets, and trashcans, along with drumsticks, to try to create as much sound as possible in support of their Wolves.
At times, the sound from the student section was overpowering for my ears. While they might not have been a direct result of the raucous crowd, it could be argued that several false start penalties were forced due to the excessive noise from the students. In fact, what might have been the loudest high school roar I have heard in several years echoed out after West Clermont came up with one final defensive stop near the end of the game.
These students have learned quickly what to cheer, when to cheer, and how to cheer together. It was impressive to see such teamwork as a cheering section, especially considering many of them had never even met until the school year began back in August. If that night was any indication, the east side of Cincinnati may have a new force to be reckoned with if you are a visiting team to West Clermont High School.
From the opening kickoff, it was clear that the visiting Loveland Tigers and hometown West Clermont Wolves would be in for a defensive struggle. Neither team had any prolonged success on offense, although it was obvious that West Clermont was more talented on the offensive line. Even still, Loveland only seemed to run plays from a power formation and did not seem interested in throwing the ball with any regularity.
West Clermont held the lead for most of the game, as an early touchdown and later a line drive field goal had the Wolves in front 10-0 in the fourth quarter. With Loveland desperately searching for answers on offense, the Tigers finally mounted a long offensive drive deep into West Clermont territory. On a critical play, Loveland appeared to complete a pass to the endzone until the ball popped out when the receiver hit the ground, which would usually be called an incomplete pass. However, the referees ruled it a completed catch and a touchdown, saying that the receiver had caught the ball cleanly before he hit the ground, which drew incredible jeers from the West Clermont fans. After the two-point conversion, Loveland trailed just 10-8.
Just two plays after what seemed to be a momentum swinging play, West Clermont responded with the help of some trickery. After crossing the 50-yard line, the Wolves proceeded to run what appeared to be a halfback toss, a common running play. Instead of keeping the ball, the halfback proceeded to throw the ball downfield to an open receiver, who was able to catch the pass and run into the endzone untouched for a huge touchdown. While the extra point was no good, West Clermont had regained control of the game, and held a 16-8 lead.
As time was running out, Loveland had one last chance on offense to tie the game. With just over a minute to go, the Tigers crossed into West Clermont territory. Unfortunately for Loveland, the drive stalled, due in no small part to 20 yards worth of penalties against their offense. After a failed fourth down and 33 yards to go, West Clermont took over possession only needing to run out the rest of the clock. The Wolves would do just that, hanging on to pick up a gritty 16-8 victory.
What a thrill it was to experience a football game at a school that did not exist just a few months ago! A new stadium, a new team, a new student section, and a new marching band, but that combination did not lead to a disjointed crowd, disorganized team, and uncoordinated band. Amelia and Glen Este High Schools have combined into one, and perhaps this new school is already creating a greater sense of community in the local area.
While a playoff appearance for the Wolves is a longshot as of right now, I would love to see them find their way into the tournament. The school and the community was an underdog from the start, considering they were not a cohesive unit until just a few months ago. For a team to go from learning to play together to the playoffs in their first season would be a remarkable feat, and I will be the first to say I would love to see it happen!
The community in the West Clermont area has something to be proud of at West Clermont High School. In such a short amount of time, a football environment has been shaped that is fun and family friendly for the home fans, while also being energetic and intense for the players on the field. I look forward to revisiting a West Clermont Wolves game in a few years when everything has fully taken shape, because to be honest, the potential is there to create something special on Fall Friday Nights!