A refreshing start to the school year


Ingrid Reginato

Players ran onto the field with a loud cheer to kick off the game.

Last Friday on Aug. 20, 2021 , Neuqua Valley welcomed students and family members back to a completely in-person school year with a customary Friday Night Lights celebration . With performances from the Marching Wildcats, cheer and the dance team, many of the student body and family members were able to relive the nostalgic and wholesome feelings of a “normal” school year. The atmosphere was light and jovial with an excited buzz before the scrimmage , already setting the tone for a good night.

The Echo went around and talked to various students and teachers involved in FNL about how they felt being back at school and Friday Night Lights.

Most current freshmen have never gone to a Neuqua football game before or had the ability to experience what Friday Night Lights is, making it intriguing to hear how they felt being there and their previous expectations for the night. One very excited freshman on the football team, Mason Merkel, spoke about his experience, repeating how awesome and happy he was to be on the team and finally participating in the “high school experience.”

The lot that was missing last year was the feeling of normalcy. Being close with other students, teammates and even teachers was a major loss caused by the pandemic. While the pandemic is still ongoing, it has remained important for many people to connect and communicate with their friends and loved ones.

Senior football player, Ian Englishharder, reminisced on this feeling, constantly highlighting the bond the team has now. Though it was a challenge to keep up camaraderie that was lost during the last season with heavier COVID-19 restrictions, it has become a priority to get to that same level of closenesses as before. Sharder reveals the true intent that lies beneath football this year, stating how winning State is the main goal, however more importantly, “on a team level, get closer, get stronger and get closer as a whole.”

An important highlight that Sharder touched on was the critical value of the crowd, describing how , “the crowd brings something… It puts you at a different level… that you can’t get by yourself.” The best part of any school event is the people there, which the past 18 months have so sorely kept away.

Danny Appel, another senior on the football team, touches on how the pivotal steps in maintaining progress towards a normal year and having people at the games is safety. “We are all wearing masks when we are inside, and when we’re outside, we are staying pretty socially distanced.” Appel hopes these measures allow them to “go pretty far this year” and continue to have spectators.

Changes were also made by other groups in order to return to a much more normal environment. The cheer team was able to provide some insight on the difficulties they had to face as a team. Lauren Solomon, a senior on varsity cheer, shared her perspective on how performing in front of a crowd again has not been possible without additional practices prior to the season. Due to restrictions on sports and how they were allowed to perform, Solomon noted how mandatory tumbling practices were enforced to catch up a lot of the new freshmen who lacked the stunting experience they would have got from a pre-COVID season.

Another change that John Timmins, who coaches the Marching Wildcats, had to adjust to were modifications to wind instruments to reduce the transmission of COVID-19. . These included but were not limited to wearing specific masks that still cover the nose and mouth (but have a slit for the mouthpiece) and using bell covers for the larger instruments to avoid the spread of air particles. All of these adjustments were made to keep the student body safe and “bring back all the great traditions Neuqua has [and] all the great history of supporting the school.”

“Feels weird but right”

— John Timmins on the 18 month long break

This support also comes from the student body, and senior Olivia Hernandez is just one of the students who has had a hard time throughout the past year and a half. Agreeing with the collective excitement at being back to traditional school events, Hernandez says, “[it] feels refreshing to be back in the same environment, [and it’s] great to see people [she hasn’t] seen since sophomore year.” Her statement really puts into perspective how long it has been since a normal school year and the vast changes that have occurred throughout this period. Students and teachers alike have danced with the woes of Zoom and missing the fun classroom activities, as well as the energy being inside the building brings. Little by little, progress is being made to getting back into the full swing of things with in-person classes again and dances., which is a vast difference from last year’s experience for Hernandez and many others in the student body where she would “[roll] over [to] the other side of [her] bed and [open] up [her] laptop and [lay] in bed all day.”

So with these hopes and expectations with this start of Friday Night Lights and many more to come, Neuqua Valley students hope for a continuous normal year, for everyone to stay safe and responsible at the same time and for everything to get back to that memorable high school experience.