Friday Night Lights are now on Thursday and Saturday too

The electric atmosphere, the bright lights of Memorial field, football players running onto the field with screaming fans, and the band playing- there is no other feeling like it. The high school tradition of playing under the bright lights on Friday nights is long-standing. But this football season is different. The Lions only have three Friday night games, and only two are played at home. Six of the nine regular season scheduled games will be played on Thursday and Saturday nights.

The schedule change is partly due to Covid and subsequent fallout for the referees. However, the primary reason for the referee shortage in the area is fans, parents, and students behavior towards officiating crew.

Before the season began, the 4A South Puget Sound League (SPSL), the league of the Lions, promised at least two Friday home games to each team in 4A but could not make any other accommodations. This shortage has impacted other schools and leagues as well, including 3A. High school football feels different this fall around the South Sound.

Spiteful chants like “take his whistle” with angry parents and students verbally attacking the officiating crew have caused many referees to quit. Varsity football captain and senior Dagim Heiser said, “Fans and parents alike can all take steps to be respectful to the referees by being respectful of the call, no matter what it is, knowing that they have a tough job.”

With the changes, student athletes often have little to no time to complete homework. “Thursday games are especially rough,” said Heiser, “being exhausted and sore from the game but having to come home and prepare for school the next day is overwhelming. But it’s what we signed up for as student athletes, and we got to work through that.”

Game attendance also suffers across all fall sports. Girls Soccer has traditionally played their varsity games on Thursday nights. Varsity soccer captain and senior Anna Wetzel said, “It hurts the fan attendance because a lot of sports have conflicts with their schedules, so students are forced to choose between the events. Both teams lose friends and fans at the game, so it’s a loss for all athletic teams.”

The changes also affect the preparation of the coaches, teachers and players alike, as they have to adapt to a different schedule each week. Head Varsity coach Brian Jensen said, “We realize it’s difficult for our players to be able to balance the challenging coursework that Bellarmine offers, along with the commitment of being an athlete. We try our best to minimize the change to our schedule by keeping our schedule relatively similar week to week, but at the same time, we must adapt and make sure we are always prepared for our next opponent…Different days, especially Thursday games, affect fan attendance.”

Jensen continues, “Attending an academically rigorous school such as Bellarmine puts a strain on student-athletes and fans to manage their time.”

It even affects the coaches. Jensen said, “My days start earlier and end later, but it is a commitment I made to put our team in the best position to succeed, and I will happily do whatever it takes to best prepare the team for the challenges that lie ahead.”

Unfortunately, the changes that the referee shortage has caused this year affect everyone. The environment that many are used to seeing on an electric Friday night is different this year. It is challenging for students, teachers, coaches, and players to balance their commitments and schedules.

But students are grateful for the opportunity to have a season and will come together as lions. As Heiser said, “The team is going to ball out no matter when or where the game is.”