For all the world's changes in the name of progress, familiarity of Friday night football under the lights soothes the turbulent soul.
It's back, marking the end of summer and the beginning of autumn, regardless of what the calendar tells us.
Marching bands. Perky cheerleaders' ponytails. The American flag twisting lazily atop the Haskell Stadium arch on a perfect night. Hank in the booth. Parents cheering sons. Grandfathers who used to play making even more noise. Students backing classmates, a rare instance of teenagers unabashedly enjoying a wholesome evening of entertainment within full view of mom and dad.
And entertaining it was. Sure, first-week mistakes abounded, and Lawrence High fell 11 yards short and lost, 34-27, to longtime nemesis Olathe North, a bigger, more experienced team, but there wasn't a boring moment.
As part of the Class of '96 10-year reunion weekend, many players and former head coach Dick Purdy were on hand. They represented the last LHS state championship team, 1995, two years before LHS split in half with the creation of crosstown Free State. Purdy chatted with former players and friends at a tailgate party and told one or two of them about the 86 he shot earlier in the day at Alvamar public.
The old coach, who does his golfing in Tucson these days, reminisced about the year the team lacked a punter and for the most part used four downs instead of three. He looked back on the '92 state-title game, a sloppy one made memorable by the gutsy performance of Jason Thoren, who played despite a wickedly high fever triggered by mono. The stories never stopped flowing.
Despite the loss, fresh LHS memories were born. Nathan Padia had some night. His long return set up his team's first touchdown, and he scored on a - get this - 69-yard pass reception. Chance Riley, the Lions' 6-foot-5 senior quarterback who kept a gun of an arm holstered most of the evening, accounted for nearly 40 of the yards with a beauty of a spiral. All Padia had to do to catch it in stride was extend his arms. What a throw. What a surprise for an O-North defense forced to play the run. It cut the LHS deficit to 27-20 at the half. Later, Padia would break loose for a 57-yard run and for a 52-yard reception he stole from the defender.
Defensively, it would have been worse than it was if not for a tough, hyperactive LHS nose guard. Patrick Johnson spends his springs and summers as a catcher. He looks like a catcher. He's quicker than he looks. He was missed after limping off the field early in the third quarter.
The shiftier Tony Williams and more powerful Tyler Hunt both looked good running the ball. In the character department, there should be nothing to worry about with this team. The Lions rallied from a 21-7 deficit and tied it, 27-27, when Abby Vestal - 'atta girl - kicked an extra point.
Looking ahead, opponents scouting LHS now know that if they're going to load up constantly against the run, Riley and Padia will make them pay. Yet, the way their talents blend, serving as decoys won't suffice. Look for the pass to become more of a featured weapon than usual. That change won't kill the wholesome buzz of Friday night under the lights.