Each week, communities flock to their local high schools on Friday evenings.
While their teams lock into battle under the lights, fans fill the seats and line the fences. They support their schools, their families, their towns. They display their team colors, huddle under blankets and stuff their faces with nachos.
It is an experience that has become an iconic image of American culture. The Northwest Herald recently attended a local game during homecoming to take in the sights and sounds of high school football in McHenry County.
6:19 p.m.: The sky presenting a deeper blue by the second, three juniors make their way toward Owen Metcalf Field in Crystal Lake.
They pass a practicing band, vibrate through a pathway between tennis courts. They make a left toward the ticket booth, find friends. Hugs, smiles and I love yous ensue.
This is the pregame glow of Crystal Lake Central’s homecoming football game against Grayslake North. Clad in orange and black and with their faces painted, Ann Grischow, 16, Taylor Barnett, 16, and Kallie Osmolski, 17, have just met up with Taylor Sedgwick, 16, and Lizzie Gray, 16, two members of the Tiger dance team.
They are here because, well, that’s obvious: because this is Friday, and on Fridays, you go to the football game. To support your team. To see your friends. To scream, dance, hug and high-five.
“It’s really exciting to see how much school spirit there is,” Gray said.
Adds Grischow: “It doesn’t matter what social ... like if you’re popular. Everyone just sits together.”
Except the Crazies – the Crystal Lake Central student section – do not sit, ever. Even an hour before kickoff.
6:30 p.m.: As the Tigers take a 21-0 lead in the sophomore game, a fog settles over the field – the remnants of the day’s earlier rains.
Forecasters are calling for more rain throughout the night.
6:47 p.m.: A group of cheerleaders wearing the Tigers’ white away jerseys time their jumps to a camera’s click.
Fans have packed the fence line along the home team’s side of the stadium. The bleachers approach capacity.
7:01 p.m.: Bob Koch leans forward on the fence as the scheduled 7:15 kickoff approaches. He’s come to the game separately from Ian Koch, his son, but he has a pretty good idea of where Ian is.
“He’s probably up there with his shirt off right now,” Bob Koch said.
7:06 p.m.: The PA announcer calls the names of the homecoming court: Dylan Duffy, Jacob Kuster, John Saltz, Justin Vallee, Jennifer Anderson, Corrie Dolan, Hayley Flores, Missy Stone, King Trevor Bryan and Queen Mary Antolak.
7:20 p.m.: During the national anthem, players raise their helmets to the sky at the playing of “land of the free.”
7:24 p.m.: “On your feet for your Crystal Lake Central Tigers!”
7:25 p.m.: Grayslake North handles the opening kick for a touchback.
7:26 p.m.: As the band files into the bleachers, one shaggy-headed boy – seemingly lost in homecoming excitement – yells point blank into his bandmate’s face: “HAA! HAA! HAA! HAA! HAAAAAAAAAAAAA!”
7:32 p.m.: Central (4-1 coming in) strikes first with a 17-yard touchdown run from Ryan Williams.
Fans release confetti in the stands. Three kids take off down the track carrying giant flags that read, “C,” “L” and “C.” Bruce Channel’s classic, “Hey! Baby,” plays, and the crowd sings the lyrics to each other: “Heyyyyy baby, I want to know ... if you’ll be my girl.”
7:45 p.m.: A second game breaks out to the north of the field. Six preschoolers play what appears to be a version of tag in which everyone is “it” and nobody ever sits out.
A sandy-haired boy in a hooded sweatshirt falls, plays like he’s hurt. When his friends approach, he jumps up. The kids scatter like flies.
7:50 p.m.: Fans’ cars have spilled into a nearby field. Ticket booth attendants say this game has the second best attendance of any this year, with the exception of the Sept. 6 crosstown rivalry against Crystal Lake South – Central’s only loss.
8:22 p.m.: Grayslake North gets two field goals in the last minute of the half to cut its deficit to 14-6.
8:32 p.m.: Justin Vallee enjoys a rare moment of calm while the band performs. Vallee, 17, is part of a small group of seniors who lead the Crazies’ chants.
He’s known he wanted to be out front since he was a freshman. The Crazies have a cheer in which, for once, the entire section sits. Then, prompted by cheerleaders, each class stands individually and spells out their battle cry, “V-I-C-T-O-R-Y” – the idea being to out-scream the other classes.
Vallee, as he remembers, was one of about three kids in his class freshman year to stand and shout. Three years later, he’s out in front with his shirt off and chest painted orange, helping call the shots.
“I always gave all-out, ever since I was a freshman,” Vallee said. “I always got all dressed up.”
8:38 p.m.: With halftime winding down, a girl in the front row holds a speaker over her head, directing it back at the Crazies behind her. Avicii’s “Wake Me Up” blares. Not a body in the student section is still.
“Wish that I could stay forever this young/Not afraid to close my eyes
Life’s a game made for everyone/And love is the prize”
8:41 p.m.: The next song is Miley Cyrus.
8:58 p.m.: Grayslake North fans have traveled well with their undefeated team.
Their fans choose a different theme for each game – zombie, America, black and gold. Tonight, it’s camouflage.
“This is our best away crowd yet,” said senior Nate Dodge, 17.
9 p.m.: A 28-yard touchdown pass from Kyle Lavand to Eric Hjerstedt is promptly taken away because of an inadvertent whistle. Grayslake fans are silenced, then elated, then ...
9:02 p.m.: ... deflated. This time the pass from Lavand to Hjerstedt counts, and the Tigers take a 21-6 lead.
9:13 p.m.: Lavand runs 59 yards for a touchdown and a 28-6 lead.
9:18 p.m.: Vacant words of encouragement float toward a dejected sideline from an otherwise silent crowd.
“Don’t give up, guys!” one woman screams.
The student section is glum but attentive.
“We knew it was going to be a tough game,” senior Nathan Hawksworth said.
9:31 p.m.: Back on Central’s side, Charlie Collins and Brendan Beggin are all smiles along the fence line, where they talk and laugh while the game winds down.
Collins’ daughter is on the dance team, but the two say they’d be at the game anyway.
“Big game,” Beggin said. “Beautiful night.”
Owen Metcalf has dodged the rain.
9:35 p.m.: The clock ticks under four minutes with the Tigers leading 35-6. Gaps start to appear in the home bleachers.
9:43 p.m.: With the band migrating back toward the track to perform “Eye of the Tiger,” the game comes to an end.
9:45 p.m.: Vallee stands just outside the fence line, on the track, talking with fellow crowd-rouser and senior Billy Linardos. The two look tired, happy.
“Because Grayslake North was 5-0, the expectations were so much greater,” Vallee said. “The fact that we won 35-6 – it was a huge win for us.”
9:50 p.m.: With a foggy field illuminated at their backs, Central fans make their walk toward the parking lot.