More Than a Game
Friday Night Football Is a Way of Life In Center Grove
Photographer / Adam Ramsey
From the excitement of the dance and cheerleaders to the energy of the marching band and fierce football competition, Center Grove High School showcases a first-rate production for the thousands of fans who pack Ray Skillman Stadium for the Friday night football games.
Center Grove’s 2019 home opening football game against New Palestine drew more than 6,000 fans, one of the largest crowds ever at Ray Skillman Stadium. Before the two football state powers kicked off the game, the CGHS Varsity Dance Team and the CG Singers wowed the fans with their pregame performances.
CGHS senior dance team captain Morgan McLain says performing at home football games is her favorite part about dance.
“Being a part of something so big here at Center Grove, seeing everyone in the stands, just knowing you’re a part of Friday nights at Center Grove, it’s just a really fun experience,” she says.
“Friday night is really a production,” says CGHS dance coach Hannah Mueller. “It’s band, it’s cheerleaders, our football program. It’s about our community.”
The CG Singers were breathtaking with their rendition of the National Anthem.
“We really appreciate the opportunity to sing for our community,” says CGHS choral director Jennifer Dice. “As the daughter of a Vietnam Veteran, I understand the sacrifices that our servicemen and women make and, in particular, hope that they enjoyed our rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner. We love performing for an audience, but it means so much more when you are pleased with the product that you were able to put forth. There are not too many schools that extend Friday Nights to groups outside of the football team. Cross country, cheerleading, dance team, choir, middle school football and cheer, the band and the student body are all a part of our Friday Nights and that is what sets us apart from the rest. We are not just a football community, we are a community that rallies behind all aspects of our schools.”
The home opener on August 30 featured not one but three varsity athletic events. During halftime of the football game, the CGHS boys and girls cross country teams had a meet versus New Palestine. It began and ended on the track with thousands of fans cheering on the runners as the theme from Chariots of Fire blared throughout the stadium speakers.
“The guys always look forward to that because where else can you go and run in front of 7,000 of your friends and peers,” says CGHS boys cross country coach Howard Harrell. “At the state meet, there might be 5,000 people there, but your classmates are there at the halftime meet. They put it all on the line.”
Halftime also features the CGHS marching band, one of the elite bands in the state and nation.
“The crowd is so big that it really does give you a lot of energy and you can kind of feed off of it,” says senior band member Richie Arkanoff.
Senior band member Nathaniel Lindsay took great pleasure in the audience’s reaction.
“To hear people applauding the band’s show almost feels unreal,” he says. “It feels as if they’re congratulating us on all the hard work that has been put in.”
“Sometimes we take it for granted the quality of school we have with all the successful academic, athletic and artistic groups,” says CGHS band director Kevin Schuessler. “Getting the opportunity to perform in a community that lifts up the students and their passions is a true blessing for us as a group and as a community. Anything we can do to promote the positive side of what students, and programs, do to move them into being quality adults and community supporters, I am a huge fan.”
The CGHS cheer squad works tirelessly to fine-tune their routines and generate the best possible school spirit for the home football games.
“The environment we create out on the football field, a lot of people say it’s like going to a college game,” says CGHS cheer coach Nicole Delp. “I think we do a lot, the cheerleaders, the dancers, the band, the student section, everything. It’s pretty amazing what we do for home games.”
CGHS senior cheerleader Emily Groce says helping spread school spirit at the home games is awesome.
“Getting to see how many people come out to the games and how much a community we really are, we are so blessed,” she says. “Everything seems like a big family within the football program, especially on Friday nights.”
Jason Mueller is in his 12th year as the CGHS football PA announcer. He does his very best to help fire up the home crowd.
“I try to bring as much energy as I can in my announcing, while still trying to maintain the integrity of education-based athletics,” he says. “Voice inflection during introductions and pregame is always something I try to focus on, as well as when the Trojans score a touchdown. You may also hear it on defense after a great play, or on 3rd and 4th down.”
CGHS senior Carson Wilhelm helps organize the student fan section.
“What makes the games so special for me is the overwhelming participation from the student section,” Wilhelm says. “It doesn’t matter what friend group you’re in or what your interests are, we encourage everyone to come out and support the team. The school spirit we receive from the student section is something I have never experienced before and I have lived in a different country and been to all different sporting events. Various football players have told me that the energy from the student section actually affects their play so that has given us some motivation to actually keep up the energy. Our love for Trojan Football has brought us together and I think that is the most special thing of all.”
CGHS senior Ethan Crowe anchors the offensive line as the center. The senior captain has a unique perspective on home football games.
“A few words that describe Friday night football games are: insane, energetic and intense,” he says. “Holding hands with your brothers as you walk to the field, 5,000 people filling the stands cheering their team on. Watching the smoke fill the helmet as we are chanting before we explode onto the field, horn blowing, watching all the fans on their feet screaming and cheering for their team. What an honor it is being a Trojan.
“As a player, the events leading up to kick-off is what sets the tone. The national anthem with the fireworks at the end, listening to Jason as he announces our names as if we are part of the greatest game on earth. The cheering, dancing and band playing the music brings everyone to their feet. After this, we are fired up and ready to take on the night knowing win or lose, we are Trojans. I’m sure the opposing team gets a little rattled by these events, wondering if they may have stepped into a college game.”
I appreciate the homestand we had (vs. New Palestine),” says CGHS football coach Eric Moore. “What a wonderful crowd, unbelievable crowd. To be on the field and look up at that is simply amazing. There were some people who came to the game from out of state that talked to me, to say this is just unbelievable for high school football and a great atmosphere.”
Friday nights have become a community event,” adds CG Gridiron President Aaron Hohlt. “Best ticket in town ($6.00 per ticket). Every Friday night is electric and full of energy. Truly something a White River Township resident should be proud of from its local school system.”
At the conclusion of Center Grove’s home opener, New Palestine radio announcer Andrew Smith may have said it best.
“The hospitality, facilities, game atmosphere, everything was top-notch,” he says. “That was a tremendous night for high school football between two great schools, great programs and great communities. You (Center Grove HS) always do things the right way and make Friday nights an event.”