Lynn Martin arrived for River Hill's football game Friday night carrying her standard equipment: a camcorder and camera.
Her son, Tyler, is a running back for the Hawks, and she likes to film his games, just like she does for Chris, a sophomore wide receiver at McDaniel College, and Zach, who plays for River Hill's junior varsity.
"It's like a tradition with our family that every Saturday when the games are over, we all watch them together on television," said Lynn Martin, whose husband, Todd, is an assistant football coach at River Hill. "Football is a big part of our family's life."
But until last week, she couldn't document every game, every weekend. On many Saturdays, she stayed for the first half of Tyler's games in Howard County, then drove 35 miles north to Westminster, hoping to catch the second half of Chris's games.
"One of the toughest choices I have to make every week as a parent is which of my kid's games am I going to see," Lynn Martin said.
That all changed Friday evening, when four banks of lights were illuminated at River Hill and at Atholton, signaling a new era for Howard sports. It meant students could return to school Friday night to socialize and support their football teams. It meant working parents won't have to adjust their schedules to watch their children play soccer and lacrosse. It meant more money for the county school budget and individual booster clubs.
"This is one of the biggest things to ever happen in Howard County," said Chuck Fales, Atholton's football coach and athletic director. "You look at counties around us like Montgomery, Anne Arundel and Frederick and even some of Prince George's County, and they all play under the lights, and now we're finally on the map."
Five more county high schools will host night football games this month, and all schools will have lights in place by the end of the calendar year, according to Don Disney, the county's athletics coordinator. Night soccer games are also scheduled this fall, and lacrosse games will be illuminated next spring.
Out of the Darkness
Stadium lights have been discussed and debated in Howard County for 17 years. Only Howard High School, the county's oldest school, had lights before this season. Proponents have long said that night games would make it easier for parents to see their children play and that larger crowds would generate more money for the school system and high school sports programs. But opponents worried about increased traffic and noise affecting nearby neighborhoods, and fights and other behavioral problems that have been reported at night events elsewhere. Others complained that only schools with the most affluent families would raise enough money to install lights. And some felt it would place unfair burdens on school administrators, who would have to work extra hours on game nights.
The county Board of Education voted down stadium light proposals in 1987, 1989 and 2000, but by last fall board members felt all concerns had been addressed and approved stadium lights -- as long as private funds paid for them and all schools were included. A fundraising drive raised $1.085 million for lights at all county schools, including Marriott's Ridge, which opens next year.
"Let's face it, this is a win-win," Fales said. "The county is going to make more money -- every school is going to sell more food at the concession stand, which the school keeps. Kids don't come to Saturday afternoon games because there are a lot of other things to do. But when we played Reservoir, you had two teams that had won a combined one game and everyone was cheering and it was so loud it was hard to talk to the person next to you. Sometimes, we have so few people at the game I can stand on the sideline and talk to my quarterback, but on Friday, he couldn't hear a word I was saying."
Drawing a Crowd
"Isn't this great?" said River Hill Principal William Ryan, standing on the track between the field and bleachers so full that some spectators sat on a field overlooking the end zone. "You have 3,000 people here, and most of them are students."
"Any time you looked up during the game, there were people everywhere. It was crazy, how many people were here," River Hill senior linebacker Ryan Deiter said.
River Hill hired six county police officers and three other security workers to monitor the large crowd, but no problems were reported. Police broke up a small fight after the Atholton-Reservoir game, but no arrests were made. There were also some parking problems at Atholton, officials said.
Most of the reactions were positive, however, particularly from a financial point of view. River Hill collected about $12,000 and Atholton $8,000 from ticket sales, money that will go to the general fund of the school system.
Last year, the county made $132,275 in ticket sales from 55 home games -- an average of $2,405 per game -- according to the county's athletic office.
The increase is not surprising, said Prince George's Supervisor of Athletics Earl Hawkins. Prince George's 21 high schools last year grossed $180,000 in ticket revenue charging between $4 and $5 a game. But $47,745 (26 percent) came from its three high schools -- High Point, Friendly and Largo -- that have lighted stadiums.
"Stadium lights mean more money, simple as that," Hawkins said. "The Howard County community raised money to put lights up, and they are going to benefit from that. We might look at trying to do the same kind of thing Howard did in our county down the line."
Hungry for More
Kim Wharton arrived at River Hill's concession stand nearly six hours before kickoff to help cook 400 hot dogs and ice down 720 cans of soda.
"We tripled what we usually get because we're in for a big night," Wharton said. "It was great for the team and great for the boosters because we were going to make a lot more from the concession stand."
Cathe Gavelek, booster club treasurer, said concession stand profits account for one-third of the club's $35,000 budget, which is spent on school athletic programs.
At a Saturday game, concessions usually raise $1,000 to $1,500, she said. On Friday, the concession stand made $2,925 and would have made more had it not run out of $1.50 hotdogs and $1.50 pizza in the third quarter.
Atholton's concession stand also ran out of food and drinks, said booster club president Charlie Gardenhour. And that was after 200 people paid $6 to attend a tailgating party before kickoff, where they were treated to barbequed pork, coleslaw and potato salad.
"We had people run to the store to buy more hotdogs during the game, and we still ran out," Gardenhour said.
"There was no way we could have planned because it was our first night game and we didn't know how many people would come. But now we do, and we'll buy more food and we'll do better. Our goal was to raise $3,000 and we came pretty close, so I'm happy."
'I Hope This Becomes a Tradition'
Chris Martin, Tyler's brother and a former River Hill quarterback and receiver, was jealous as he stood on the sideline and watched Tyler rush for a game-high 101 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries to lead the Hawks to a 21-7 win.
"Why couldn't they have done this a few years ago when I played here," Chris said. "This is the first time I've seen Tyler play a whole game in person this year because McDaniel and River Hill always played on Saturday afternoons."
And Todd Martin was glad he no longer had to rely on his wife's camcorder to watch Chris's games because of his coaching responsibilities at River Hill.
"As a father, it's tough because it got to the point where I was watching them on television, not in person," said Martin, who attended McDaniel's game against Ursinus College in Collegeville, Pa., on Saturday. "Now, I'm not going have to watch my sons play after the game is over, I'm going to be there."
But this night belonged to River Hill. As the final whistle blew, students in navy and yellow poured from the bleachers onto the field to revel in the Hawks' second win over Wilde Lake in nine meetings.
"This is the best part of my senior year so far, being able to come here and see so many people out at the game," said River Hill senior Suzy Herlihy, who attended the game with her field hockey teammates.
"Usually, on Saturdays only the players' friends and parents come to the game, but now pretty much our whole school is here, and it's great for school spirit. I hope this becomes a tradition."