by Emily Schwartz and John Timko, Managing Editor, Sports Reporter
Sophomore Lucy Marcus’s first football game was electric. Students and spectators packed the stands on Oct. 1 at the football team’s second Friday Night Lights game of the season. Marcus said she enjoyed the supportive atmosphere, an aspect of high school distinctly lacking in last year’s online format.
After COVID-19 plagued last fall’s inaugural season for the permanent stadium lights, the years of fundraising and negotiation finally came to fruition this fall as South has hosted night games almost every weekend.
The hallways buzz during the day before games, which South senator and girls soccer player junior Lily Paltrowitz said can be felt just by walking through the halls.
“You see people dressing in pink or blorange, and everybody’s like, ‘Oh, are you going to the game?’” she said. “I’m on the girls soccer team, and it feels great to have your school classmates supporting you when you’re on the field.”
This fall, dance team member junior Sunny Tian performed at four home football games; before the permanent lights, South brought in portable lights for one weekend in the fall, so each team played just one regular season home-game under the lights.
“It’s an honor,” Tian said. “We feel like it’s a big spotlight, so it makes the experience more real and alive.”
For the field hockey team, which had not previously played in the stadium under the lights, Friday Night Lights games have been special, junior Laura Frothingham said.
“It makes us feel more important, because in past years, field hockey wasn’t very prioritized,” she said. “Playing under the lights, it’s definitely a different experience.”
Football captain senior Harry Capodilupo said that the additional fans cheering the team on have helped his team’s performance.
His coach, Ted Dalicandro, said that he has noticed the lights’ positive effects on his team.
“I try to get the kids to focus on just the game, but I’d be silly not to say that it definitely helps to have Friday Night Lights and the kids [to] feel a part of something bigger than just football,” Dalicandro said.
Likewise, performing under the lights has helped motivate Tian to give it her all for the bigger crowds.
“We feel more excited and hyped up to perform at home games because we know there are more people from our school watching,” she said.
However, girls soccer captain senior Ertel said that with the bigger crowds comes added pressure to play well.
“The games are more intense. We’ll work really hard on the field because you can feel that your peers are watching you,” she said. “Being under the lights and having a lot of people watching you can be really distracting for your performance.”
Ultimately, though, Ertel said she’s grateful for all the support her team has felt from the student body.
“It makes you feel really good being like, ‘Oh wow, my peers are making an effort to watch me and my team play,’” she said. “From the athlete’s perspective, [it] feels like my sport is getting the attention that it deserves.”
For non-athletes, night games serve as opportunities to get involved with the South community, athletic director Patricia Gonzalez said.
“You don’t need to be an athlete to enjoy your nights like this, and you can come to the stands from a different perspective and a different experience and enjoy the team aspect of participating in sport as a fan,” she said.
The atmosphere carries over to the parents’ section of the bleachers, where Pedro Quissanga and his family watch his son Everson play quarterback for South.
“He’s excited [and] motivated. We’re here. Our whole family’s here, so it’s good to go,” he said.
Dance team parent and South alumnus Adam Weitzman said that he also felt the spirit and enthusiasm in the stands.
“I don’t recall there being a huge amount of spirit years prior, so seeing this is heartwarming,” he said.
Weitzman said that the lights have enabled him to come to watch his daughter perform.
“If these games were happening during the day, I would not be able to attend. There are a lot of working parents in Newton, and being able to attend at night is good,” he said.
Gonzalez said the night games have also been more convenient for her Council of Athletes, a group of students whom she gathered last year as the schedule underwent significant changes.
“They are able to finish school and then go eat something and come back to be at games,” she said.
The permanent lights have also given the athletic department more flexibility when scheduling team practices. Gonzalez said teams used to overlap more before the permanent lights were installed, but now each squad can have their own space; however, these additional night games have augmented the workload for the staff who work the games.
“For a soccer player, [they play] maybe only Saturday night or a Friday night. For my staff, it’s every Friday [and] Saturday night, so it is impactful on the workload,” she said.
Night games have also impacted neighbors, like Paul Melman, who said that the sound can be bothersome.
Others, like Anna Stavropoulos, a former South parent, said that the lights haven’t bothered her.
In order to install the lights, neighbors, school officials and city officials collaborated over 15 years during a public process to discuss logistics and address concerns. A similar process will begin again as Mayor Ruthanne Fuller announced on Oct. 4 that a new lights project at South’s Brandeis Field will be included in her Capital Improvement Plan (CIP), a “road map” of projects prioritized in the next five years. The project has yet to be proposed and approved, but it will be publicly debated.
“That was news to everybody, and I’ve already heard that my other councillors from the ward have heard from residents, and they’re concerned,” Ward 8 City Councilor-at-Large David Kalis said. “There’s going to be a public process, and a lot of discussion and debate.”
For now though, Gonzalez said that the new lights have been worth the long process, because it brought the community together, especially during the pandemic, a time where students felt isolated.
“This group of students are very aware of what they lost and what they missed,” she said. “The biggest lesson that we learned over the last 20 months is how important it is to be there for each other and to value the little things in our life. People never thought of coming to a game on a Friday night because they have other things to do, but then suddenly my friend is there, he needs me, I’m there for him or her, and that’s very important. It’s a very important shift that I hope carries over.”