Lights shine on homecoming

It was a little after 7 p.m. and blocks away from the stadium, there were hardly any signs of life. Only the perpetual glare of convenience store lights and late parents shuffling their children to the ticket lines. Houses were dark and vacant.

Inside Wildcat Memorial Stadium, there was a burning anticipation. The cheerleaders led the crowd in rally cries, which were audible from across town.

Some attendees deserted their cars in deep trenches along 2nd Avenue, angled at an odd 40 degrees. Some had to park as far away as Fairhaven.

The Rydell family, father Rob, and children Cassidy and Dylan, took long strides down the winding sidewalk, leading to the stadium.

Dylan is on the Oak Harbor pee-wee football team and his coach, Kevin Bell, is the Oak Harbor High School football announcer. Rob mimicked his calls: “Another Oak Harbor first dooown.”

It was the family’s first game of the season, the Wildcats’ homecoming against Arlington, and the distant roaring added to their excitement.

“Look at how many kids are out here. You can’t get more hometown spirit than this,” Rob Rydell said. “It’s like a rock concert.”

Inside, locals and students were bundled in the stands against the chilly, Friday night wind. Some students sacrificed warmth for Wildcat fashion, donning bright purple shorts or thin jerseys.

Lisa Kinker, an Oak Harbor freshman, said purple and gold permeated the town Friday. At the intersection of Whidbey Avenue and Highway 20, balloons were hung from traffic poles.

“Everyone in town was wearing purple and gold today. You don’t see that in most places.”

Within the first two minutes of the first quarter, the Wildcats’ managed a 3-point field goal, scored by Kevin Flavin. Oak Harbor resident Scott Smith watched the unified crowd erupt from their seats.

“I was quite shocked this was a high school football game,” he said.

Part of the pageantry surrounding the game is the homecoming royalty, and dotting the walkway were flashes from their crowns. Michael Williams and Ceaje Noe, the junior homecoming prince and princess, were feeling charged but also exhausted from a day of royal obligations.

They began with a 9 a.m. photo shoot and an afternoon pep assembly.

“The assembly was great, everyone was screaming our names,” Williams said.

At halftime, the marching band gathered on the field and a purple rug was stretched across the track. The queen, king, princes and princesses exited the locker room and under an archway of drawn swords, from the high school ROTC.

The women were wearing floor-length gowns and carrying stuffed bouquets of flowers. The students stood on platforms facing the crowd.

Homecoming royalty is usually heavily vetted, with a GPA and discipline record screening. They also go through several rounds of voting.

This year’s senior queen was Claire Trepanier and the king, John Hu.

Following the energized halftime, scoring came to a stand-still as the teams dragged the ball back and forth across the field.

The third and fourth quarter remained at 3-0, and the end of a hard fought game, the Wildcats sauntered off the field victorious. Assistant Superintendent Lance Gibbon said he was impressed with the team’s energetic first drive. He also lauded Wildcat Memorial Stadium, which is in its second year of use.

“It’s a great venue for a Friday night, for the best show in town,” Gibbon said.

The crowd, hungry for a victory, filed out of the bleachers content, and having felt the splendid heat of those Friday night lights.

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