The lights shined down on Ruppe Field on Friday night as Reedsport Community Charter School joined other high schools around the state in turning on their stadium lights in honor of this year’s seniors and other students who are unable to attend classes in person.
The movement started in Texas and spread to Colorado before Oregon high schools began to take notice. The idea took off in the state after Madras athletic director Evan Brown sent out an email to all his colleagues asking them to join in.
The idea quickly picked up steam in Oregon with people on social media using the hashtag #bethelightOR.
The South Coast’s schools joined in, though not all are lighting their stadiums on Fridays. Gold Beach is doing it on Wednesdays and Myrtle Point on Thursdays. Coquille will turn on its lights on April 20 and May 20.
“I saw some other schools doing this and thought it would be a good idea to do as well,” said Sheri Wall, who coordinated the event for Reedsport.
Reedsport assistant football coach Brian Klier turned on the lights at 8:20 p.m. (20:20 in military time in honor of the class of 2020).
The original plan was to have the lights on for 20 minutes, but then Reedsport Principal Jerry Uhling said to do one minute for all the seniors (45 minutes), Wall said.
Reedsport plans to join other schools turning on the lights each week on Friday night.
“We have some other ideas we are working on also,” Wall said.
Those include putting banners with senior photos on light poles around town; posting pictures on the Reedsport Community Charter School Facebook Page of the different spring sports venues (the track, softball and baseball fields) with a list of the seniors who would have participated in each sport; and doing a senior spotlight of one senior each day on the Facebook page.
“We are just trying to think of other ways to recognize our seniors — thinking outside the box,” Wall said.
Brown, the Madras athletic director, said he had read about the Texas schools and then saw that it was becoming popular in Colorado, too.
“It thought, ‘It’s such a great idea, let’s see if I can get this rolling here,’” he said in a story on OSAAtoday.
Brown reached out to his Class 4A colleagues and to Dave Hood, the executive director of the Oregon Athletic Director’s Association, who helped pitch the idea statewide.
“By now it’s exploded,” Brown said last week. “It’s amazing how quick it took off.”
On the South Coast, North Bend athletic director Mike Forrester bought into the idea quickly, as did schools around the state.
“I bet I have 50 emails from different school districts,” Forrester said. “All over the state, people are going to do it.”
The first on the South Coast to turn on the lights was Gold Beach.
“Panther Nation! We miss all of you,” athletic director Kevin Swift said in a tweet that included pictures of the lights at Gold Beach’s stadium. “These lights are a symbol of our love & support for you, especially the Class of 2020!! Be safe, take care of yourselves and we will see you again!!”
He expanded on that concept in the story for OSAAtoday.
“I think by taking part in this movement, it shows how much educators and coaches are connected to their students and student-athletes,” Swift said. “We genuinely hurt and miss our kids. Not the wins and losses of games, but the everyday interaction and positive relationships we have with our kids.”
Up the coast, all four high schools in the Lincoln County school district came on board.
Toledo athletic director Bart Rothenberger played music over the sound system and announced the names of the school’s seniors as though they were starting lineups.
“With everything going on, and the year cut short, we didn’t get to say goodbye to them, but we want them to know we are thinking of them,” Rothenberger said in the story on OSAAtoday. “It’s a light of hope and assurance, to let them know they’re in our hearts and in our minds and that we miss them.”
Forrester said he hopes the weekly lighting in North Bend is a positive for all the students, not just the seniors, and the community as a whole.
“I think it’s something that every kid in our school district can rally around,” he said. “We have a small community, people in our community can have something (positive) to remember about.
“We are going to have Friday night lights again. We are just going to have to wait a little bit for the real Friday nights.”
Editor’s Note: This story includes information from Jerry Ulmer of OSAAtoday. To read other stories on high school sports in Oregon, visit the OSAAtoday section of the Oregon School Activities Association website at www.osaa.org.