Welcome to Season 2 of the High School Fan Experience! In our inaugural season, we saw Viking horns at Miamisburg, smoke bombs at Anderson, cannons at Wayne, and cowbells seemingly everywhere. We saw blowouts at Elder, nail biters at West Clermont, starry skies in Centerville, rainy days at Kings, and bitter cold in Troy. To put it plainly, we saw it all in 2017.
Or did we?
Throughout the 2017 season, there were several facets of Ohio high school football that we did not get the opportunity to see for one reason or another. Some opportunities did not work out because of timing and schedules. Other things were not feasible due to travel and distance. Finally, some elements of Ohio high school football just were not present in my local area during 2017.
One of the things we did not see in 2017 was a true “backyard rivalry,” where two schools from the same town face off against each other. Sometimes, a school district has two high schools, or a town has a public high school and a private high school. Often times, in the latter case, the two schools work together on certain issues such as bussing, but otherwise have no connection with each other aside from their geographic locations.
To open the 2018 High School Fan Experience, we traveled to Kettering, Ohio for a special Thursday night game between the Archbishop Alter Knights and the Fairmont Firebirds!
“The Battle of Kettering,” as the rivalry is known, pits the parochial high school in Kettering (Alter) against the public high school (Fairmont). Alter is a Division 3 football power, having made several deep runs in the state football playoffs. Fairmont, on the other hand, is one of the largest high schools in all of Ohio, and yet has only experienced modest success in Division 1 football.
Alter has been the dominant team historically in the rivalry between Kettering schools. However, the Knights were trying to avenge a loss to Fairmont in the first game of the 2017 season. With both schools coming off of successful seasons, the energy and excitement for the 2018 Battle of Kettering was immense in the days leading up to the opening kickoff.
On a pleasant and sunny Thursday evening in Kettering, Ted Talk Sports took part in one of the great rivalries of the Miami Valley, and the 2018 Battle of Kettering would produce an all time classic football game for the High School Fan Experience!
The home for the Fairmont Firebirds is Roush Stadium. Coincidentally, the Firebirds share Roush Stadium with the Alter Knights, making the Battle of Kettering a de facto home game for both schools. Nestled in the middle of a Kettering neighborhood, the stadium sits on the campus of Van Buren Middle School, which itself is a half a mile to the south of Fairmont High School. With easy access to Shroyer Road and Far Hills Avenue, two of the main thoroughfares in Kettering, Roush Stadium is not difficult to travel to despite being hidden within the houses and school buildings.
Both sidelines of Roush Stadium are flanked with large sections of seats. Home fans, whether for Alter or for, in the instance of that night, Fairmont, sit along the west sidelines, while the visiting fans sit on the east sidelines. Behind the south endzone is a large section of bleachers dedicated for the home team’s marching band. About 6,000 people can fit into the bleachers at Roush Stadium, with room for hundreds more in a standing room only fashion near both endzones. For the 2018 Battle of Kettering, it was estimated by WHIO Sports Director Mike Hartsock that well over 6,500 fans were in attendance.
Roush Stadium features two concession stands, with one large stand housed underneath the home grandstand and a slightly smaller stand sitting just north of the visitors’ seats. Along with the regular selections of hot dogs, burgers, and nachos were, once again, Lee’s Famous Recipe Chicken Strips, and a newcomer for the High School Fan Experience in the form of Jet’s Pizza Slices. Concessions were in high demand during the game, as waits of up to 20 minutes for food and drinks persisted well into the second half.
It goes without saying that tailgating for a game between neighborhood rivals will be fierce and prideful. When I arrived at Roush Stadium, Alter fans had already set up shop across the street from the field in someone’s front yard, with Alter flags waving high above the ground and Alter tents firmly planted in the grass. Not to be outdone, Fairmont fans were setting tables and grills in a nearby parking lot, with their flags and spirit wear flying proudly in the summer air.
Music was the first thing I noticed when I arrived in Kettering. The tailgaters had not only brought typical tailgating equipment, but many of them had also brought stereos to play everything from country to pop to rock music. While not an uncommon tailgating item, loud music has not been present at most of the tailgates I have been to during the High School Fan Experience.
As is usually the case, the smells of tailgate food filled the Kettering air that Thursday evening. Crock pots were plentiful in the yards surrounding Roush Stadium, as were a few small grills and all different kinds of chips and dips. Even though the food inside the stadium was worth the price, there is no doubt that there was no shortage of fantastic tailgate grub available before even entering the stadium gates.
Without a strong presence from parents and other volunteers, it would be impossible to create the kind of welcoming environment that Ohio high school football is known for. Some volunteers are parents who have kids in high school at that time, others are parents of alums from the high school, and there are even a few who volunteer their time just to give back to the community. No matter the reason for volunteering to help, there would be no high school football without these volunteers.
At Roush Stadium, the need for volunteer work is extensive. There are several stadium gates, multiple concession stands, and several pop up booths and stands either advertising local companies or selling assorted spirit wear. Some parents even helped hand out drinks to the marching band after their halftime performance, going so far as to provide dinner to some of the band members.
As far as the fans and parents in the stands, Roush Stadium was a family friendly place to watch a football game. Parents and fans were respectful of both the opposing teams and the referees, and there were no unnecessary boos at any time of any person on the field. Perhaps most importantly, during the most crucial points of the game, every fan rose from their seats to cheer on their team, showing a level of support that is not often seen in high school football.
Fairmont High School was the designated home team for their matchup with Alter. With a student body of around 2,500 at Fairmont High School, it was not a surprise to see that the student section at Roush Stadium was completely full with hundreds of students ready to cheer on their Firebirds. Throw in the fact that their football team has made improvements over recent years and that they were playing their big rivals from Alter, and you have yourself one intense mob of screaming students. What they did not know was what a treat they were in for as the game would progress.
Fairmont students were clad in white and blue, many wearing shirts with the exclamation of “Beat Alter.” A Firebird flag flew during important Fairmont plays, with one of the senior students holding it high when Fairmont’s offense would break free for a big gain. Some students shook pom-poms, others held signs, but each and every one of them screamed themselves hoarse, especially as the game became exciting towards the end.
From the start, Fairmont students were ready to take their claim as the rightful owners of Roush Stadium, shouting loudly at the Alter students “This is our house!” They were among the best I have heard at singing “Seven Nation Army,” which these students did before every kickoff throughout the game. Their singing was with such conviction and power that, as they jumped up and down and grew louder with each note, they caused the bleachers beneath them to bounce up and down with them. If that doesn’t call for special recognition for the pride the Fairmont students have in their football team, I don’t know what does.
There are 263 members of the Fairmont Marching Firebirds. You read that number correctly. The marching band at Fairmont High School is the largest extracurricular activity at the school, and while they do have strength in numbers, they are even stronger when it comes to sound quality.
From the opening march into Roush Stadium, it was apparent that the Marching Firebirds are a talented group. Their synchronization was spot on throughout the night, both in how they played and in how they moved. Clad in their neatly pressed uniforms for the first game of the season, the band looked the part as much as they sounded the part of being a big time marching band.
For the halftime festivities, the Marching Firebirds performed a preview of the competition show, which is titled “The Edge of Imagination.” With crisp marching and a strong sound, the show kept the crowd very entertained throughout the intermission. With a song as iconic as “Pure Imagination” from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, how can you not fall in love with the Marching Firebirds?
Here is just a small sample of the Marching Firebirds from that evening.
It was clear from the start that neither team would be achieving much on offense, as both Alter and Fairmont showed incredible strength on defense from start to finish. Alter would sustain a drive, but then either stall out offensively or ultimately turn the ball over. Meanwhile, Fairmont just could not get anything going offensively, finding little success running the ball and even less success the few times they decided to pass.
By halftime, only a Fairmont field goal after forcing an Alter turnover deep in Knights territory, and an Alter field goal as time was expiring, dented the scoreboard, as teams entered their locker rooms tied 3-3. Alter would eventually take a brief lead by kicking another field goal in the third quarter, but their 6-3 lead would not last long. As the fourth quarter began, the Firebirds would once again force a turnover deep in Knights territory, leading to a game tying field goal.
With score tied at 6 late in the fourth quarter, Alter began what looked to be a potential game winning drive. As the Knights marched down the field, their offense showed signs that they were ready to break loose and score the game’s first touchdown. However, that was not meant to be, as a penalty, a fumble, and a botched snap resulted in 4th down and 26 from near midfield. Fairmont fans began to realize that they were going to get a chance to win the game for themselves.
After the Alter punt and Fairmont fair catch, the Firebirds would find themselves in even more trouble as they would be called for a personal foul after the play had ended. Fairmont had limited time to go 92 yards to the endzone, in a game where the Firebirds had been halted at every opportunity by a strong Alter defensive front. With 3:27 left in regulation, I will be honest and say I felt very confident that the High School Fan Experience would see our first ever overtime game that night.
I was wrong.
Fairmont continued to run their typical power running offense as the drive started, finding only limited gains at first. On a pivotal third down with two and a half minutes left, the Firebirds found some daylight, running up the sideline for a big first down conversion. When Fairmont converted another big first down, the student section began to lose their collective minds behind my position near the south endzone.
With under a minute to go, Fairmont had put themselves in a position to try a game winning field goal should the offense fail to get a first down at any point. In a complete shock to me, the Firebirds decided to run a passing play deep down the field. With a defensive back closely guarding the receiver, the pass was completed down to the one yard line, setting up first and goal with 22 seconds left.
After a timeout at the 15 second mark, Fairmont set up from the one yard line, looking to score the game’s first touchdown. On first and goal to go, the Firebirds did just that, the running back diving over the goal line and into the endzone for the go ahead touchdown with just 14 seconds left. Although the extra point was blocked, Fairmont had taken a 12-6 lead with mere seconds remaining for Alter to respond.
A penalty on the ensuing kickoff put Alter at their own 30 yard line, leaving the Knights with no choice but to attempt a Hail Mary pass towards the endzone . As the throw was knocked down for an incomplete pass, time expired, ending the 2018 Battle of Kettering. After an incredible and dramatic fourth quarter, the Fairmont Firebirds had come from behind and defeated their crosstown rivals, the Alter Knights, for the second year in a row by the score of 12-6.
After the players shook hands at midfield, the entire Fairmont team sprinted over to celebrate with their classmates, first in the student section and then in the band. The Marching Firebirds played their alma mater and fight song before the Fairmont players were allowed to mingle on the field with the student section. Eventually, a victory bell was rolled into the endzone, and players began taking turns ringing the bell, to loud cheers and shouts of joy, to celebrate their win that evening.
Even several days after the conclusion of the 2018 Battle of Kettering between Fairmont High School and Alter High School, I still get chills looking at pictures I took and hearing audio I recorded from Roush Stadium that fateful Thursday night. The sights, the sounds, the atmosphere, the rivalry, everything came together to create one of the most enthralling and sensational fan experiences I could ever have hoped for. The fans on both sides were tremendous, as were the students, and the players on the field completed everything with their intense, yet sportsmanlike, play all evening long.
Roush Stadium is without a doubt a must see for any fan of high school football in Ohio. Whether you are attending a game for the Fairmont Firebirds within the Greater Western Ohio Conference, or a game for the Alter Knights within the Greater Catholic League, you can rest assured that you will be surrounded by proud people supporting their football team in a way that is both respectful and equally powerful. If, by chance, you are looking for an incredibly special experience, I would highly recommend driving to Kettering and hoping there is a ticket left so you can witness the 2019 Battle of Kettering.
In closing, I have a final message to the Fairmont student section. I challenged you to be louder than The Herd at Centerville High School, the student section I had declared the loudest of all the games I attended last year. You need to understand, those students caused my ears to ring for a day after attending their game with Pickerington North. Fairmont Firebird students, I am writing this down on Sunday, August 26, and I can firmly say that my ears are still ringing. You guys were incredible, especially as your Firebirds charged down for the game winning touchdown. You guys should be proud of yourselves in every way for your actions on Thursday! I cannot wait to see what you guys can do in the future if we cross paths again!
In case you were wondering how the finish to the game sounded from field level, look no further! There are some technical glitches in the audio due to how loud the cheers were at times that evening.