Friday Night Lights to celebrate students, first responders
Many Illinois high schools will be shining a light tonight on students, communities, health care workers and first responders.
And that, as Libertyville Athletic Director John Woods said, is pun intended.
"I think it's really just a time to demonstrate solidarity," Woods said of a nationwide movement known in Illinois as Lights for the Fight, in which schools turn on their stadium lights in shows of support.
"This thing spreading across the country, lighting up the stadium, what's happening is we realize we miss the kids, we miss the competition, we miss the coaches, and anything we can do to shine a glimmer of hope, no pun intended -- well, maybe pun intended -- throughout the communities, to just keep hope alive," Woods said.
That hope is for schools to reopen and school sports to resume. Per the order of Gov. J.B. Pritzker, schools will remain closed at least through April 30 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Today, Woods will flip the switch at 8 p.m. -- the 20th hour of the day -- and leave them on for 20 minutes to honor the Class of 2020. No one is permitted to visit the stadium given stay-at-home and social distancing mandates.
Organizers say the program will continue weekly until schools reopen.
"I imagine there are a lot of schools that will be participating," Vernon Hills Athletic Director Brian McDonald said. He noted this is not a statement to "open the country before it's safe."
Each of the 12 schools in the Central Suburban League, such as Vernon Hills, will turn on its stadium lights from 8 to 9 p.m. today. Cary-Grove High School turned on its stadium lights last Friday.
Not all schools or districts are participating. Others were considering doing it either this Friday or at another time, or waiting for approval from school principals.
Hersey High School in Arlington Heights initially declined, then went ahead with Friday Night Lights.
"It's a cool idea, so the bottom line is a good result," Hersey Athletic Director Steve Messer said in an email.
In Mundelein High School's intricate plan, each of the four light poles will be on from 8 to 9 p.m. Friday and dedicated through social media posts to different groups -- first responders, health care workers and scientists; residents; athletes and students in all school activities; and the Class of 2020.
"We're trying to make this a community thing, letting them know that we're all in this together and we're thinking about everybody," Athletic Director Troy Parola said.