The scene was certainly set for a primetime atmosphere. There was a student body dressed almost exclusively in black, led by a group of seniors waving a giant white flag, in a section jam packed with rowdy fans. Even the public address announcer got into the act, cueing the theme music for “Monday Night Football” as the two football teams warmed up on the field.
But most importantly, the lights were shining on Episcopal’s Hummel Bowl last Friday for the first time in the school’s 169-year history as part of its “Friday Night Lights” festivities.
Over the past several years, members of the school’s board of trustees had been broaching the idea of bringing in lights since there are no permanent ones on the campus, where homes games are almost always held in the afternoons.
Last spring, those trustees decided to make their idea a reality by footing the nearly $30,000 dollar bill to bring in two giant tractor trailers from a company that does the lighting for various collegiate and professional events around the country.
“Over the summer, I got the cost, told them what it was, and there was a big gulp,” Episcopal’s chief financial officer, Boota de Butts said before last Friday’s football game against St. Alban’s. “They said, ‘We’re not doing this every year, but we’ll do it for this one time.’ I think the student body is very excited about it.”
The school made the special occasion into a double header event featuring a girl’s soccer game against Flint Hill followed by the night’s marquee matchup between the Maroon and their rivals from St. Alban’s. School officials even held a barbeque before hand for students and parents to come together as a community.
In the past, Alexandria had frowned on the idea of high schools playing under the lights, most recently when nearby T.C. Williams High School tried and failed to put in permanent lights as part of its renovation process.
Episcopal officials said they applied and were granted a permit to have the temporary light fixtures, and had no major stumbling blocks along the way. The lights were removed following Friday night’s games.
The atmosphere had all the student-athletes involved, excited to perform under the brightest of circumstances. Episcopal football coach and athletic director, Mark Gowin, said the only team in the IAC that has lights is Bullis of Potomac, Md., meaning his players usually only get to play night games once every other year.
“The kids are really honored to be the team and the players to have the opportunity to be the first guys under the lights here on campus,” Gowin said.
Added senior Elle Czura, a member of the raucous student section, “It’s cool being a part of something that hasn’t been done here before.”
<b>THINGS DIDN’T GO OFF AS PLANNED</b>, though, when the girl’s soccer team dropped a hard-fought match to Flint Hill, 4-1, to start off the festivities.
But in came Episcopal’s star wide receiver Hunter de Butts, son of the school’s CFO, to make sure all his father’s work didn’t go unrewarded. The senior finished with 91 receiving yards, 33 yards rushing, and a touchdown, while consistently acting as the jump start the Maroon offense needed whenever it began to sputter.
His lone score, on a 26-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Alex Helm, put Episcopal up 14-7 early in the first half. But perhaps his most important play came in the third quarter when de Butts was in as Episcopal’s punter and the scoreboard read 31-21 in the Maroon’s advantage.
On a designed fake punt to the left, de Butts reversed field after multiple St. Alban’s defenders sniffed out the play, and had the wherewithal to complete a 20-yard pass to wide receiver Gray Bryant to prolong the Maroon drive. Episcopal ended the possession when senior Evan King ran in one of his three touchdowns on the night.
“Hunter is an ad-lib guy and what’s so fun about him is he creates things,” Gowin said after his team’s 38-21 victory. “It was one of those when it’s your night kind of things.”
The win puts Episcopal back over .500 for the season with a 3-2 record. The Maroon had lost their previous two contests before and afterwards players credited the illuminating experience with giving them extra motivation.
“We’d been looking forward to this all year,” Hunter de Butts said. “For the last two weeks, we played with no heart. This week we came out and brought it all, brought everything, and left it all on the field.”