The differences began to show up as soon as I left the office.
Departing at 6:40 p.m., a good 30-40 minutes later than I always used to, I arrived at Haskell Stadium after just seven minutes. No traffic, no parking jam, nothing.
Thanks to an oddity in the high school football schedules, Lawrence High and Free State both played on Thursday night last week. That gave me a chance to investigate something I had been dying to check out since it was announced that the Lions and Firebirds no longer would play at the old venue. Just what goes on at Haskell Stadium on Friday nights nowadays?
It’s funny, but the answer is nothing and a lot.
In football terms, there’s very little going on at the old stadium on game nights now.
At 7:01 p.m., as I walked across the field where a kickoff would’ve been unfolding, the only light that hit the turf was from the dim, hazy sun setting behind the arch in the distance. The only noise that could be heard was the howl of the cicadas, which has replaced the crunch of pads and the scream of the referee’s whistle.
The field itself, a much-maligned part of Haskell’s history, appeared to be in pretty decent shape. There were no visible bare spots, which is saying something considering the amount of rain we’ve had, and the grass was thick and sat below the proudly painted Fightin’ Indians logos in purple and gold.
Above the field, the press box was dark, like it always used to be, but not because the lights had been turned off so the assistant coaches could see. Instead, it looked lifeless and vacant. Below the box, where spirited students used to fill the yellow bleachers between each 35-yard line, sat a sea of benches, their only purpose now being a convenient resting place for an empty QuickTrip cup or two and little else.
Below that, the gates to the dark underbelly of the north stands were padlocked and any noise made near them produced a haunting echo.
At 7:09, as I approached the part of the stadium that seemed the quietest — the area where the boisterous bands used to blow their horns — a young boy and two women arrived. They entered through the southeast gate but were not there to cheer the action. They were the action. Without a peep, they began running stairs and walking laps around the track.
As they made their way around the stadium from section to section, a barking dog could be heard from who knows how many miles away.
Despite the unfamiliar visions, like the unlit light towers, which now look ancient and out of commission, the place still smells of football. Maybe it’s the grass or the track or the history or the tradition.
At 7:28, when we’d normally be approaching the end of the first quarter, the sunset is nearly complete and there’s not a hint of anything resembling a high school football game. Outside the stadium, it’s even more eerie. The main entrance on the north side of the stadium, where parents sold programs, Booster Clubs hawked gear and fans filed in with anticipation, looks like nothing more than a lonely delivery dock.
As day turns to night, the darkness looming above the stadium is telling. Just another Friday night at Haskell Stadium these days.