Last Friday’s dress rehearsal at Gator Field went off without a hitch, as a decent amount of observers checked out the new-and-vastly-improved bleachers while Port High scrimmaged Elk County Catholic under the lights.
“There’s a lot of curiosity and interest in things,” athletic director Dan Stavisky said.
The old wood-and-steel stands, part of the landscape for more than 40 years, had become a legitimate safety concern as the school’s maintenance department tried to keep up with replacing splintered and worn-out boards. There are no such worries with the aluminum model: With handrails on slip-resistant steps, a ramp for handicapped access, fencing around a camera deck which runs the full length of the much-larger pressbox – a far cry from when radio and television crews used to climb onto the slanted roof of the original to broadcast games, and the only access to the second-floor coaches’ boxes was via a ladder leading up through a hole in the floor – and no open spaces to the ground below, the structure should serve the school’s needs for many years to come.
On the night of the scrimmage, a sprinkler soaked a large patch of fresh green sod in the corner of the end zone near the concession stand, where Mike Kallenborn of Pine Valley Landscaping was called in to deal with a drainage problem that had bubbled up to the surface. But with that and a few other late odds and ends taken care of, Stavisky feels that everything should be in order for Port Allegany’s official introduction to “Friday Night Lights.” The Gators kick off at 7 p.m. against the Athens Wildcats, a Class AA team from District 4 which replaced Johnsonburg on the schedule.
“Definitely a different environment,” said Mike Bodamer, the coach of the two-time defending Allegheny Mountain League and District 9 champions. “Hopefully we’ll get some more people to the games. Even when we’ve had good years, Saturday afternoon is still awful tough to get people to come to games – there are a lot of things to do on the weekends. High school football is without a doubt Friday night; it’s good to bring it here finally. We’ll see how it goes. It will definitely save the end of August, early September heat games where we’re all dying of heat exhaustion. That will definitely be nice.”
“It’s good for our kids to have good support at the games. The more fans, the more excited the kids are to play,” Stavisky agreed. “It will be exciting. There will be some adjustments, but we’re ready to go.”
Both Gator soccer teams will also be in action this weekend, with the girls heading to the Bradford Tournament on Friday afternoon and the boys opening with a non-league home game against Coudersport at 10 a.m. Saturday morning.
The boys’ game is one of three additions to the schedule, along with a third game against Smethport on Oct. 10 and a trip to Wellsville (N.Y.) on Oct. 15, to give them the regular-season maximum of 18 games.
“I like having a full schedule. My opinion is, you don’t get better by sitting at home,” head coach Aaron Clark said. “I told Dan to give us a game against anyone in the state, or even in New York state, and we’d go and play them. I didn’t care if it was the state champs.”
Like the football team, both the boys soccer and volleyball squads are coming off back-to-back league championships. The Lady Gators travel to Portville next Tuesday for their season opener, before beginning their North Tier League title defense at Smethport on Thursday. Tuesday also marks the beginning of the cross country schedule, when the Gators and new coach Jeanette Burleson travel to Coudersport.
The Port golf teams were the first fall sport to swing into action, with the girls dropping a 39-16 match at Bradford last Tuesday. Debbie Andrus led the Gators with a 61, Hannah Buchsenschutz shot a 71, Kaylee Ernst 76, and Alysa Dickinson 78.