T.C. Williams (Va.) High is one of the nation's most well-known football programs, thanks in large part to the cinematic success of Disney's "Remember the Titans." Still, with all that tradition built up, the school was missing out on the tradition most often connected with high school football: playing home games on Friday nights.
That all changed last week, when the Alexandria school trucked in temporary lights from Iowa to host a home game on a Friday night for the first time. According to the Washington Post, the high school, which first opened in 1965, has never had lights installed on its home field because of concerns from neighbors of the school and the cost associated with bringing in permanent lights. The team has played away games on Friday nights, but never had home games at night following a ban on night games in the 1969 season, a decision made by the Alexandria public school system to try and minimize vandalism and racial tension.
The game, in which Williams eased past South City (Va.) Secondary School 28-7, was a major occasion in Alexandria, just across the Washington, D.C., border. Members from the 1971 state title team memorialized in "Remember the Titans" were in attendance, and Williams football alumni from across the decades descended on the school to soak up the atmosphere at the Titans' first Friday night home game, a memorable event made somewhat ironic by the fact that the Disney adaptation had nearly all the team's most memorable games set at night.
[Photos: Stills from 'Remember the Titans']
None of the guests were more notable than Herman Boone, the head coach of that 1971 team who was portrayed by Denzel Washington in the Disney adaptation. Boone told the Connection Newspapers of suburban Virginia that the game on Friday was a historic one for the school, and could kick off a new glory era at Williams.
"I truly hope that this is a wake-up for the wonderful fans of Alexandria who have made great sacrifices over the past 38 years to see this night," Boone said. "I believe this night is as truly historical as ‘Friday Night Lights.' It's something that we in Alexandria thought we would never see. ...
"I have made great sacrifices and traveled great distances because I wanted to see with my own eyes history -- history that I thought would never happen in this city. There were many aspects of this city who did not want races together at night. Let's tell it like it is. Thank God, these mentalities are no longer with us. People are not color conscious out here tonight. They seem to be color neutral. Color consciousness was the mentality that kept lights out of this stadium for 38 years."
While it brought plenty of attention, the one-off Friday night game didn't come cheap. T.C. Williams' football boosters had to raise $24,000 to offset the cost of the lighting rental, but got a huge lift from rapid sales of $30 VIP packages that included a pregame tailgate and meet-and-greet with the 1971 team. They sold nearly 500 to raise more than half of the total needed.
[Read more: 'Remember the Titans' tackles race relations]
Any concerns that Alexandria residents who didn't invest in the VIP packages would stay at home were quickly quashed in the moments before kickoff.
"Look at the stands: full bleachers," Glenn Furman, coach of T.C. Williams' 1984 and 1987 state title teams, told Connection Newspapers. "I'm talking to kids that I coached 25 or 30 years ago that are here and excited to be a part of it. This is a fun night for all of us."
Most significantly, it was a memorable night for the T.C. Williams players themselves, who finally got to experience an event seen as a right of passage in high school football.
"It exceeded my expectations," senior receiver Will Rossi told Connection Newspapers. "It was crazier than I thought it could ever be. I thought it would only be people in the stands, but they were all around the sideline. It was just hectic and awesome. People were definitely nervous, but once we got on the field everybody was ready to play."
Now the question is whether T.C. Williams will ever get to host a night game again. While Alexandria Mayor William Euille and Dr. Morton Sherman, the Alexandria City Public School superintendent, were both supportive of Friday's games and more like it in the future, neighbors of the school sent off a tentative shot across the bow in the Washington Post before Friday's game even kicked off.
"We're not intending to stand in the way of having a special event," said Carter Flemming, who has lived adjacent to the school since 1986 and sits on the board of directors for the Seminary Hill Association, a civic group that represents the surrounding neighborhood. "Every school is entitled to do this. But if this is a great success, we don't want them to think, 'As long as we can get someone to underwrite this, we can do this every Friday night.'"
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