When I first set out to create my own website, I knew that I had to include something as distinctly Ohio as Friday Night High School Football. However, I also knew that in order to stand out, I would have to do something different from anything I had seen before. What came to mind was the idea that High School Football in Ohio is more than just a game, and more than just an after school activity. I needed to find a way to express, as a fan, how the experience of a high school football game is a phenomenon in the state of Ohio.
In order to portray that as accurately as possible, I would have to travel to as many games at as many schools as I could within just ten weeks. I knew full well going into the season that I would miss two weeks for a long awaited vacation, so I knew that time was of the essence, and that each game would have to be extra special in some way. I feel as though I spent my time as well as I could have considering the circumstances presented.
I will be the first to admit that the season was far from perfect. There were some obvious issues, such as technical difficulties with my computer at home, causing delays to some of the articles being released. There were other times where audio I wanted to record at the game, or a picture that I wanted to take, was not saved due to an equipment malfunction. There was the night I was delayed 45 minutes in leaving for the Springfield at Wayne game due to unforeseen overtime at my day job.
Then there are the struggles that are not as obvious to the casual observer. One week I double booked myself, resulting in me scrambling to find someone to attend a game at Kettering’s Archbishop Alter High School while I attended a game at Centerville High School. On two occasions, the school at which I was hoping to see a game flat out ignored my pass request, as both Colerain High School and Cincinnati’s St. Xavier High School did, likely on accident, during Week Two and Three respectively. Coincidentally, those two schools played each other for the right to advance to the State Semifinals in Division 1 on Friday. For the record, Colerain, which lost at home to St. Xavier in Week 2, defeated St. Xavier to advance in the playoffs.
Perhaps the most important problem I encountered during my first season of covering high school football was that I had no idea what I was doing. From day one, I had an idea of what I wanted to cover at each game, but I did not have a clue of how to properly document everything before the season started. Most of my best pictures, audio recordings, and overall experiences were the result of a complete accident or perfect timing. As the season unfolded, I learned what worked and what did not, and by the end, I did have a better idea of what I needed to do to get the information I needed for each school and for each article. It certainly was a lesson that had to be learned through experience.
In looking back at the overall High School Fan Experience in 2017, I realized that several different schools had many different ways of doing essentially the same thing every week. Each school had a different signature cheer, but they are all variations of energizing the home team. Every marching band has a fight song, but they all bring about a sense of pride in the home school. Every stadium has a new and exciting quirk or feature, but they all house thousands of excited fans for a football game every Fall Friday. Every team runs a different set of plays, all with the ultimate goal of defeating their opponent.
In my year in review, I hope to look at some of the best from what I saw around Southwest Ohio. Some schools had expansive tailgate parties, while others had student sections that could be heard from miles away. No matter the case, one game stood out above all the others, and one experience stands alone as the highlight of the season. I hope that you had as much fun riding along in 2017 as I had bringing you all of the sights, sounds, and smells from each High School Fan Experience!
Football games are usually preceded by tailgating and block parties. However, I was not entirely sure what to expect when it came to tailgating before a high school football game. I was not a part of any tailgating before football games when I was in high school, although I was informed after my Anderson High School article that there is in fact off site tailgating prior to Anderson football games.
What I found was a pleasant surprise. Just about every school I traveled to offered some sort of tailgate party. The only exception was when there was a major rainstorm the day I visited Kings High School, and along with tailgating being hindered, several games in general were postponed due to the weather. Otherwise, tailgating ranged from small pockets of dedicated fans to large congregations of traditional tailgate parties.
Without hesitating, the two schools that stand alone as having the most impressive tailgate setups were Centerville and Elder. Centerville tailgating had already begun before I arrived for the game, and I was parking at the stadium a full two hours before kickoff on a Friday evening. Several tents and canopies were situated throughout the parking lot, along with a large number of SUV’s and Trucks being utilized for both shelter and table space.
The tailgating at Elder was similar in quantity to that of Centerville, but was slightly different in how everything was spread out. With Elder being situated within the city of Cincinnati as opposed a suburb such as Centerville, space was at a premium for tailgating. With The Pit having been around for football for 80 years, Elder fans have found every way to utilize the space available, from front yards, sidewalks, and garages. Throughout the neighborhood, the smell of grilled burgers and brats filled the air, much to the delight of yours truly.
I will never complain about the smell of a good burger, and the sight of grills and crock-pots was common all around the region before high school football games. The tailgating enhanced each experience, and while I was not sure what to expect before the season began, I was impressed by the passion of each tailgate party.
If it wasn’t for the parents of the players, or for the fans of each team, whether they be alumni or just local residents, then high school football would not be possible in Ohio. I can proudly say that each school I went to had dedicated parents, both in the stands rooting for their kids, as well as in the concession stands or tearing the tickets to help make the stadium operations run as smoothly as possible. In addition, every game I was able to attend featured thousands upon thousands of passionate fans cheering for their hometown team.
While every stadium was full of adoring fans and loving parents, Troy and Miamisburg High Schools showed a special kind of dedication to their school. Miamisburg may have been the first school I visited, but the atmosphere created by the parents and fans of the Vikings was the kind of welcoming environment that sticks in your memories all season long. With so many smiles around the new stadium at Miamisburg High School, the positive attitude, as well as the optimism, was obvious from the beginning, and their passion was strong from the start of the game to the finish.
What I saw at Troy High School was a different kind of dedication from the parents and fans. First, the game was as high stakes as any game all season, as the Trojans were facing their archrivals, the Piqua Indians. On top of that, the weather conditions were as brutal as anything I had ever seen, with rain, high winds, and falling temperatures persisting for hours before the game, throughout the entire game, and well into the night. Still, the stands were filled with thousands of parents and fans for the duration of the game, cheering with great determination for their team. Not even the worst weather conditions of the season could keep the crowd away from the final game of the year. If that does not scream passion for their team, I do not know what would.
Parents and fans are what make the high school football games what they are. If their support were not there, the excitement and flow of the game would not be the same. To all of the parents and fans of high school football throughout the region, all I have to say is thank you for everything you do.
You cannot have a football game if you do not have a field to play on, and there is no excitement to the game if there is not a proper place for the spectators of the game to congregate. There is no right or wrong way to put together a good football stadium, but all of the stadiums I visited had a number of similarities. Along with the similar features between stadiums, each stadium contained its own quirk or special feature.
Everything from Viking horns, tiger roars, and cannon shots could be heard within the stadiums I entered. Most of the locations featured a massive picture of the schools logo or mascot, while some of the stadiums were more subtle in the use of the school’s imagery. Some schools employed inflatable tunnels to focus the home team’s charge onto the field, while other sites featured an open stadium entrance, with the home team entering the field of play locked arm in arm in a show of unity. If there was one feature that was present at every single stadium, it was the playing of the White Stripes song, “Seven National Army.” Literally, every stadium had it as part of their music playlist, and every student section could be heard chanting the iconic guitar riff at some point during the game.
What I found most interesting was the difference between the newest stadium and one of the oldest stadiums I visited. West Clermont High School features a brand new stadium for 2017, while Anderson High School plays their football game at a stadium that opened in 1965. The newly minted West Clermont Stadium opened with the new high school, and is literally surrounded by athletic fields that have yet to be completed. The new bleachers are still glistening in the sun, and the artificial turf is still being broken in with each passing game. Despite the stadium being so young, it has taken hold as a formidable home for opposing teams very well over just one season, as West Clermont was able to win four of their six games at home in 2017.
On the other hand, Anderson’s Brown Stadium has the feel of an older football stadium, which is not to say that it is inferior. If anything, Brown Stadium offers a completely different feel to a football game than a newer stadium could. The stadium, unlike newer stadiums, which may tower over the school building, is built into the hillside, taking advantage of the natural terrain of Southwest Ohio and hiding the stadium from the outside. The hillside, however, is not very high, which means the bleachers must extend farther up the sideline to create as much space as possible. To top it all off, the main entrance, which is the only part of the stadium you can see from the nearby street, also serves as the concession stand, box office, and press box, all rolled up into one small brick building.
With each high school football stadium in Ohio, you will see many things that are the same from place to place, and yet they all have a distinct feel from each other. While some stadiums may be better organized than others and some may offer better food than others, every stadium in Ohio is capable of hosting a spectacular Friday night of high school football at any time.
At a high school football game, there is always one section of the stadium that will cheer louder than the rest. I am of course talking about the student section. Every student wants to see their school win, and every student section wants to do their part to make sure their team knows they have all the support they need.
From the start, I gave each school’s student section the objective to top the students from the game I had attended the previous week. For the most part, each school outperformed the schools that came before. Every school had a different cheer that was uniquely theirs, and each student showed their pride in a different, yet equally passionate way.
The students that stand out the most from 2017 were the students from Kings High School and Centerville High School. My visit to Kings High School was dampened, quite literally, by a steady stream of rain, along with well below average temperatures for the start of September. In the face of the torrential rains, the students at Kings came to their game against Lakota East dressed in Hawaiian shirts, hula skirts, and shorts, and I do not believe any of the students brought an umbrella or rain jacket. They were boisterous from the opening kickoff, and did not let up until the game was over. At one point, I said to myself that the students at Kings were out of their minds for sticking it out through the rough weather. Looking back, the perseverance of these students is what shines through, sticking it out no matter what, to cheer on their beloved Kings Knights.
One week after fighting the rain at Kings, I found myself roaming the sidelines at Centerville High School on a much more pleasant evening. What I saw and heard from the students at Centerville was beyond comprehension, as the sound they were able to create and the fervor with which they cheered on their Centerville Elks was astounding. That so many students were able to cheer on cue, with precise coordination, during a game as chaotic as their affair with Pickerington North only added to the awe that I felt standing in front of the Centerville students. If that was not enough, they somehow topped themselves in intensity when I returned two weeks later for their special Thursday night game against Springboro. Centerville, you made a fan out of me, and your students are a huge reason it.
When high school students work together towards a common goal, anything is possible. When they come together to cheer for their team, there is never a shortage of love for their team and hatred for their opponent. These students show their emotions in the best way possible at a high school football game: by cheering as loud as they can for their team, with all of the passion that they can muster.
While stadium loudspeakers will play some dramatic music during a high school football game, everybody knows that the marching bands always provide the best music. Whether it be a school specific song or an arrangement of the most recent pop tune, the marching band is the true driving force behind the crowd excitement at a stadium. A well-played number or a well-timed selection can go a long way in getting fans energized for the upcoming play.
Every band I saw was strong, but the two that stand out in 2017 are the marching bands from Alter and Wayne. Even though the band from Alter High School was not large in physical size, they more than made up for it in how they performed. Their movements, while not overly complicated, were precise and perfect for the music that was played. As far as the quality of the sound, it is understood that not many bands will be able to match what was heard from the Alter High School Marching Band.
Similarly, the Wayne Marching Band stands tall among all of the bands I was able to sample. Unlike Alter, Wayne’s band featured a massive membership, and included an elaborate march into the stadium. Like any good band, an immense intensity was present from the moment they marched into the stadium until after the final playing of the alma mater during the postgame performance. Among all of the large marching bands I saw in 2017, the Wayne Marching Band would go down as the best.
You cannot have a good high school football game without a good marching band. End of story. I have yet to have a Fan Experience without a good marching band, so I guess you can say I have yet to attend a high school football game that was not good.
GAME OF THE YEAR
Pickerington North at Centerville
The most exciting game I attended from an on the field perspective was an easy selection in 2017. The incredible finish between the Pickerington North Panthers and the Centerville Elks will go down as one of the best football moments I have ever seen in person. Scoring came at a premium early, as only field goals were scored prior to halftime. In fact, if it had not been for a Centerville field goal just before the half, the Elks would have been shut out in the first half. With that Centerville field goal, the Elks had cut the Pickerington North lead to 6-3.
Centerville came out strong to start the second half, scoring a touchdown on their first possession. Centerville had taken their first lead of the game at 10-6, but the excitement was just beginning at that point.
After a costly penalty resulted in a Pickerington North first down, the Panthers were able to respond with a touchdown of their own, retaking the lead 12-10. However, the Panthers would miss the extra point, which would come into play later on.
Centerville and Pickerington North exchanged punts before the third quarter came to an end. With the score 12-10, the tension from fans on both sides was at a fever pitch. Little did everyone know that the best was yet to come.
As the fourth quarter got going, the teams continued to sputter on offense, exchanging punts back and forth until Pickerington North was able to sustain a drive. The Panthers, aided by a poor Centerville punt, were able to drive down for another touchdown. After making the extra point, the Pickerington North lead was extended to 19-10.
Shortly after receiving the kickoff, Centerville was able to score on a long touchdown pass, cutting the lead to 19-17 with just five minutes left to play. However, within just a couple minutes, Pickerington North had scored again, reclaiming their nine point lead at 26-17. With only three minutes left, all hope seemed to have been lost for Centerville.
Centerville was able to return the ensuing kickoff to midfield, and quickly scored on another touchdown pass. The Elks had cut the lead to 26-24 with about two minutes left, and Centerville still had all three of their timeouts remaining. Considering Centerville had been doing well defensively throughout the game when they needed it most, and the fact that they had all of their timeouts to use, I expected Centerville to kick the ball deep to Pickerington North and rely on their defense to come up with a big stop.
In short, I could not have been more wrong.
Centerville attempted an onside kick, and were successful in recovering the ball for themselves. With just under two minutes to go, the Elks had a chance to win the game. With just a couple seconds left, Centerville had gotten to within field goal range, putting them in position to win the game with a successful field goal. After a Pickerington North timeout to add more pressure to the Centerville kicker, the teams were ready for the game deciding kick.
The kick was good. The Centerville Elks had scored nine points in the final two minutes to defeat the Pickerington North Panthers 27-26.
As I shouted that Centerville had won, I turned around to see the entire student section storm out of the stands and onto the track that surrounded the field. Within moments, I had to duck out of the way to avoid being trampled, first by the students cheering along the sideline, and then by the exuberant players as they charged over to celebrate with their classmates. The memory of that game will live on with me for as long as I follow high school football.
EXPERIENCE OF THE YEAR
Elder High School
When choosing the High School Fan Experience of the Year, I had to factor multiple things into my decision, including everything that happened before, during, and after the game, both on the field and off it. The tailgating had to be superb, the crowd had to be enthusiastic, the stadium, the band, the game, everything had to be high quality in every aspect. It did not take long before the selection became obvious. No experience I had during the 2017 high school football season comes anywhere close to the evening I spent in The Pit at Elder High School.
I knew going into the evening that I would be attending a football game in a place that USA Today had called “one of the ten best places to watch high school football in the entire country.” I knew that I would be a part of a tradition that goes back some 80 years on the west side of Cincinnati. However, nothing could have properly prepared me for what I would be a part of that night.
What I saw was tailgating throughout an entire neighborhood that lasted from several hours before kickoff until well after the game was over. What I found was a marching band that, even though they did not have a large membership, created a sound that was strong and a look that was well choreographed. What I heard were fans that came prepared to cheer their hearts out, and students that were relentless in their chants. What I saw was a stadium unlike any other in Southwest Ohio, filled with over ten thousand fans of a team that would not be denied a victory that night.
The opponent for the Elder Panthers made that night even more special, as they would be hosting their conference rival, the Moeller Crusaders. Elder came out strong, scoring the first 21 pints of the game, and they would not look back from there. While Moeller would make the playoffs in 2017 and Elder would not, the Panthers would come out victorious on the evening with a dominant 42-14 performance over the Crusaders.
I can say with absolute certainty that my experience at Elder was unmatched in 2017. In every aspect, Elder High School takes the cake, from the tailgating to the fans to the band to the stadium itself, nothing even came close. That is saying something, since I was amazed and impressed with every experience I had during the 2017 season. Nevertheless, when all has been said and done, I can firmly say there was no greater thrill during my first season doing the High School Fan Experience than during my trip to The Pit to see the Elder Panthers play some football.
The 2017 series of the High School Fan Experience, for being my first endeavor into high school football, can best be described as a rousing success, even though it was far from perfect. I put hundreds of miles on my car traveling from stadium to stadium in hopes to learn and experience something new every week of the season. Fortunately, there was always something new to see and know everywhere I went.
I got to hear students sing the fight song when their band wasn’t playing, see smoke bombs and pink powder fly through the air after touchdowns, feel the energy and excitement of thousands of screaming fans, and witness my first game winning field goal at a high school football game. I did it all in just one season, and I hope I was able to convey it all to you, the reader, in a relatable and understandable fashion. I hope that in 2018, the content gets even better, and the Fan Experience only grows to new heights.
I have some people I need to thank for the entire High School Fan Experience. First, I feel the need to thank Lincoln Schreiber. Link is the play-by-play commentator for Wayne High School games on Oldies 97.3, and was the person who gave me a chance to get back into radio when I returned to Southwest Ohio. He is also the person who informed me of how to go about obtaining a press pass and what process I should take to get a hold of Athletic Directors. In short, I would not have been able to get my series of Fan Experiences started without the advice of Lincoln Schreiber.
I would also like to thank the countless fans with whom I interacted during my trips to each high school, as well as those who made suggestions of schools to visit during the season. My season was made even more exciting and comfortable by my conversations with you, and your insight into each game and each school only furthered my understanding of what I was experiencing each night. You are all a part of the High School Fan Experience through your contributions.
Finally, I need to thank my wife, Eileen Parry. Eileen put countless hours into helping edit and revise my High School Fan Experience posts. She usually did so while on lunch working at her office, and all of her work went uncredited on the website. Eileen helped shape each article into what you saw every week, and along the way taught me how to better portray each point that I was trying to get across in a way that was easier for everyone to understand. She was the one who decided to help me out when I double booked myself for both Centerville and Alter, and was the one to visit Alter’s game against Xenia. On top of everything, Eileen is the single most important person when it comes to Ted Talk Sports, and words cannot accurately express how much I appreciate and love everything she has done to help me with the website.
Most of all, thank you, the reader, for taking the time to learn about just what it is like to experience a high school football game in the state of Ohio. I can promise you that I am just getting started with the High School Fan Experience, and I guarantee I will be back for more in 2018!