The Verndale Pirates football program owns a storied past.
Two state titles, numerous appearances in the Nine-Man state tournament, along with a coach closing in on win No. 300 are all marks of a program rich in tradition.
But one tradition that is synonymous with prep football has been absent in Verndale. That tradition is Friday night football played under the lights.
Until this summer Verndale's football field didn't have lights. The Pirates home games were played at 3:30 p.m.
That changes this season as lights were purchased from the Morris School District.
"We're excited about it," said Verndale head coach Mike Mahlen. "The whole facility has really improved.
Verndale running back Sam Moenkedick carried the ball in a 2006 game. Moenkedick and the Pirates will play their home games under the lights for the first time this season, opening at 7 p.m. Friday against Brandon-Evansville. Brainerd Dispatch/File photo » Purchase reprints of this photo.
"Not only do we have the lights, but we have a different scoreboard. It's a lot bigger than we had. We have a new press box on the west side of the field. With the press box the stands are up in the air and we have more of a grandstand. On the east side we also have a new concession stand and bathrooms."
The improvements were made possible by a group called the Friday Night Lights Group. They organized last year, elected officers and raised the money to purchase the lights. Headed by Mike Lovelace, the group raised close to $60,000, the total cost of all the improvements.
Through fundraisers, alumni donations and donations from non-profit groups like the Lion's Club, the group was able to raise the money needed for the complete overhaul.
Another benefit was the price of the lights. Morris High School didn't need them or the scoreboard. Its high school team is sharing the new University of Minnesota, Morris facility.
"Somebody saw an auction bill that said the Morris School District was selling its lights and scoreboard," said Mahlen. "We called down to a few of their board members and our superintendent went down to the auction and purchased the four sets of lights and poles for $2,500. That started things rolling."
Verndale had talked about getting lights before. The Lion's were going to purchase them until a storm destroyed the Lion's shelter. The money reserved for the lights went to fixing the shelter.
As the years went by, the price went up. The last estimate Mahlen heard was $60,000. When the Morris lights "fell into their laps" as Mahlen put it, the extra money raised was used for the other improvements.
"We had a lot of people donating money, but also their time and labor," said Mahlen. "The people that hooked up the lights and the other things, a lot of their work was donated."
The Pirates' home field was one of the few in the state without lights. Mahlen named Clinton-Graceville-Beardsley and Nevis as others and said there were a few more across the state.
"The kids will enjoy it," said Mahlen. "We expect more people at games, too. Before it was always the parents getting off work early. Now the average family will be able to come to the ballgames. A lot of it has to do with how good your team is, but with the later start times we're hoping for people to come out of the woodwork to watch us play."
JEREMY MILLSOP may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5856.
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