The lure of Friday-night lights
September 19, 2006
The lights symbolize unity.
If you were to take a cross-country flight on any Friday evening in the fall, you would see them everywhere: in both small, rural towns and sprawling metropolises; up north, down south and on both coasts, in states both red and blue.
You would find the same setting in Hawaii that you’d find in Maine or Alaska or, of course, Texas.Friday night lights connect the dots. The three words represent something uniquely American – a tradition that resonates from coast to coast, and collectively unites these States.
Until this fall, however, it had been 16 years since that American tradition had a home in Aspen. In 1991, Aspen moved its varsity football games from the old Iselin field, once the site of the town dump, to the school district field below the middle school.
Under a makeshift setup of lights, the setting at Iselin had an offbeat charm. Baseball infield lights were coupled with tall light-stands in both right and left field to cast an uneven swath of illumination across the grid marks painted into the outfield turf. Certain portions of the field were too bright, while elsewhere chunks of turf were left in the dark.”Depending on which way you looked, you were going to get blinded or you couldn’t see anything,” said Dave Connaroe, a semi-retired teacher who was the athletics director at the high school until 1999. “It was really pretty funny. But they had to do it that way because you couldn’t have a pole in the middle of the baseball field.”Humorous, sure, but for a number of locals who enjoyed those Friday night games, it wasn’t funny when Aspen’s varsity football program ceased to exist after the 1994 season. The absence of night games was just one of many factors that led to the demise of a once-proud local tradition.
There were those, however, who clung to the belief that high school football – under lights, no less – could again thrive in Aspen.Earlier this month, that dream became a reality when the reborn Skiers football team hosted Grand Valley under top-of-line $200,000 lights on its new $800,000 turf field. The funds for the lights came from private donations, while the artificial turf was paid for by the school district, the city and more private funding.Just like the old games at Iselin, the lights brought out fans in droves. A few hundred locals in red and black packed the sidelines to take in the sights and sounds of Friday night football.Down in Basalt, a similar scene unfolded. After playing home games at the middle school for the last several years, the Longhorns hosted a football game under their new lights at their newly re-sodded field next to the high school.
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Just like the old games at Iselin, the lights brought out fans in droves. A few hundred locals in red and black packed the sidelines to take in the sights and sounds of Friday night football.Two weeks later, after both local teams dropped their first two games of the season, Basalt hosted Aspen on soggy Friday night. It was a festive scene – with the bleachers packed full of rabid students as well as a swarm of parents and other interested locals, nearly all of whom wore their team’s respective colors.
It was a scene that would have been instantly recognizable, even from miles away. It was just another Friday night football game in another small town, another dot on a huge map of lights. Nate Peterson’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org