A first for the IHSA: Maine West, Highland Park golfers play at night
"Friday night lights" is usually associated with high school football players facing each other across the line of scrimmage.
For the first time in Illinois High School Association history, golfers experienced the thrill of competition under the lights.
On Friday at the Des Plaines Golf Center, the Maine West boys hosted the Highland Park team for the first boys or girls meet held under the lights.
The event grew from a conversation last year between Maine West coach Mike Godlewski and his Highland Park counterpart, Paul Harris, who have been coaching against each other since 1995.
They were slated to play at the Chick Evans Golf Course in Morton Grove. But Godlewski said Harris suggested trying "something different, something unique." Harris suggested the golf center, adding, "How about under the lights?"
After Godlewski talked with golf center officials, everything fell into place.
"We decided to do it on a Friday night. Every kid grows up thinking of playing on a Friday night under the lights," Godlewski said. "Usually it's football. But we're going to do it as golf."
Harris said his players were fired up at the idea.
"As far as we know, it's the first time a golf match has been played at night, we know in the Central Suburban League and probably in the state," Harris said. "We have a chance to make a memory tonight."
A large contingent of parents gathered for the historic meet, taking group pictures for posterity.
Amanda Griffin, of Des Plaines, mother of Maine West's Riley Griffin, said, "I'm part of the boosters, so we're at the football games all the time. So it feels odd that we're not there tonight, but it's exciting to come out here and watch them."
As tee time approached, Godlewski gathered his troops to talk strategy, as well as remind the players it was the week of the anniversary of Sept. 11.
"Most of these kids weren't even born then," he said.
He urged them to "enjoy tonight," but also talked about the uniqueness of the course. "It's short. There is no out-of-bounds, so we will play everything lateral with the water, the woods and everything."
He also warned them about the standing water.
At 7 p.m., as daylight faded from the sky, casting an orange glow to the west, the lights came on and Highland Park's Jared Grossmann and Maine West's Jack Hernandez took the first shots for their respective teams. Both successfully reached the green.
"I'm glad I put it on the green," Grossmann, a 17-year-old senior, said. "I would have liked to put it in the hole, but it was a good shot.
"I had never played night golf before. I don't know many people who have. It's definitely something cool to say you played under the lights."
Hernandez said it was "a little nerve-racking with all the people here."
But the 17-year-old senior said, "I find it pretty exciting. I think it's cool trying something new, being a part of history."
The lights were just one of the factors facing the golfers, with strong winds playing a part.
"Obviously this is a course that's a little bit shorter, because it's a par three course, than the courses we're used to playing," Harris said. "You still got to get the ball in the hole. We had a lot of rain, so I'm sure the course is a little soggy. But it's not going to change the experience for the guys."