It takes a village: Behind the scenes of Friday Night Lights at West Forsyth

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 11, 2018

By Marc Pruitt
For the Clemmons Courier

The sights, sounds, and experience of a West Forsyth home football game on Friday night gives all those in attendance a chance to escape for about three hours and root for their favorite team and favorite players.

Even in the presence of a muggier than normal October night, the thrill of seeing great plays being made on the field brings out a healthy enthusiasm and spirit of optimism on the result.

Coaches make sure they have their players ready for the game. And with all the action that takes place on the field, there is plenty of activity that also goes on behind the scenes. There are just as many moving parts to making sure the games go off without a hitch by the dedicated staff at West Forsyth, whose job is to ensure an enjoyable experience for all, no matter the final score.

Mike Pennington, who has been the athletics director for the Titans for the last five years, said that planning for all the logistics that take place during the season and for every home game usually starts in the spring of the previous school year.

“Schedules have to be finalized, and at that point, you send those in to a booking official to secure the referees for all your home games,” Pennington said. “There is a checklist you go through to make sure you have all the I’s dotted and T’s crossed because there’s a lot that goes into having everything ready.”

Pass lists and parking lists must be confirmed. Ticket booth workers need to be lined up for the entry gates. The field must be painted, lined, and marked. The scoreboard needs to be checked to make sure it works properly. There needs to be staff in the press box to run the score clock, play clock, and do the public address announcing, as well as tend to any needs the members of the media who are present might need, such as making sure there are updated rosters for both teams available, or having enough space for the radio broadcast team that is there.

Workers need to be lined up for the concession booths. Staff needs to be prepared to help the officials and the opposing teams when they arrive. A law enforcement presence must be arranged, as does an on-site first responder team.

Pennington enlists the aid of assistant athletics directors Shannon Casey and Scott Bilton to assist with game day operations as well as many other staff members and volunteers who are happy to help.

“Most of the people we have helping us have been around for a while,” Pennington said. “There’s something to be said for the continuity we have, and it helps that we don’t have to break a lot of new people in.”

Kim Stiller, who works in the front office, is in charge of lining up the ticket takers and making sure they have enough money on hand to make change when necessary.

Pennington said that at a minimum, there are usually eight law enforcement officers at every home game.

“We arrange those with our School Resource Officer,” Pennington said. “They are usually here about three hours. For big games, we might try to have twelve here with the expectation of having more people.”

Usually by Wednesday every week, Brian Bowman has the field painted and Brad Bovender and John McIntosh paint the lines and hash marks.

On Friday, Pennington sets aside time in the morning to make sure pass lists and parking lists are up to date.

“We make sure the coaches’ families are on there, coaches’ families from the opposing school, school board members, things like that,” Pennington said. “We reserve one of our parking lots right behind the stadium for those who have donated to our booster club, and our ROTC program handles access to that every week. We also have other people helping out with parking in our other lots.”

Around lunch time, Pennington heads out to the stadium to get the game clock and play clock powered on and tested.

There are 16 concession workers at every home game. They come from other sports teams and their parents. Teams that sell the most reverse raffle tickets in the spring get their pick of which game they want to work. Not only do those teams get the money from the concessions that night, they also get to have the 50-50 raffle as a fundraiser during the game.

“Norman Denny takes care of buying all our supplies for concessions,” Pennington said. “We joke around all the time that the only person who is here more than me or Mr. McAninch is Norman. I mean, he us here about every night.”

You’ve probably heard the phrases “Big money” and “You’ve got to pay to play” ring through the stadium from public address announcer Alex Yoder while promoting the 50-50 raffles.

In the press box, Yoder has been doing the public address announcing for many years. Kevin Baity mans the scoreboard and clock, and Fred Youngman, who retired as a guidance counselor several years ago, is responsible for operating the play clock. Michael Murray helps with the pre-game music, and Mark Oakley compiles stats for the Titans during the game.

Once the officials begin to trickle in on Fridays, Coach Adrian Snow helps get them settled into a locker room. Pennington arrives to give them their paychecks for the game, and also visits with them at halftime to make sure they have some water and a snack.

Jim Coghill is responsible for getting the locker room area ready for the opposing team.

“At that point, we are in game-mode and start doing our varied tasks,” Pennington said. “Coach Bilton goes to turn on the lights on the baseball field and makes sure the press box has everything it needs. Coach Casey makes sure the visiting team gets on and off the field for warm-ups and before and after the game. Once the game starts, we are handling any issues that pop up and making sure things are running smoothly. After the game, we kind of do all these things in reverse.”

Once the final buzzer sounds and the teams and officials exit the field, the clean up begins. The ROTC is tasked with cleaning the bleachers, and Pennington has a crew to clean out the restrooms.

“I’m usually out of here by 11 (p.m.),” Pennington said. “I get about 20,000 steps on my Fitbit on a typical Friday night, sometimes 25,000. You always have to also keep an eye on the weather. Anyone who knows West Forsyth knows that we are always going to play if at all possible. But last year against Mount Tabor, we had to clear the stadium twice because of lightning. There is definitely a lot that goes into taking care of everything by a lot of different people.”

The home crowd left disappointed after a 16-10 loss to East Forsyth last Friday night, but Pennington and his faithful crew will be ready to do it all over again against Reynolds on Oct. 19.

All in a day’s work.