By Carla Branch
Most high school football teams and their fans take the pageantry of Friday night football for granted. T. C. Williams High School in Alexandria has a football history to be proud of, with three Virginia State championships and a Disney movie that wove fact and fantasy together to tell how football helped integrate a segregated southern town. Since the school opened in 1965, there have been no lights and no night football games at Parker-Gray Stadium … until last night when the lights were turned on. As for the game, the Titans won, 28-7, keeping their play-off hopes alive.
“When the school was built, there was an agreement with neighbors that there would be no lights in the stadium,” said Clark Mercer, a lifelong Alexandrian who graduated from T. C. and coached soccer at the school after finishing his studies at Yale. “We want to change that and have lights permanently at Parker-Gray.
“We are willing to work with the neighbors to make this work. We understand that there need to be compromises. The key is working together,” Mercer said.
Mercer and a group of T. C. supporters asked fans to sign a petition to get lights at T. C. as they entered last night’s game. “So far, no one that we have asked has refused to sign,” Mercer said. “This is just the first step. To get lights, the special use permit under which the school operates will need to be amended, and the school system will have to apply to City Council to make that happen.
“We want the School Board to hold hearings and listen to the community, and we understand that the Planning Commission and City Council will hold public hearings as well. We just don’t see any reason why this can’t work,” Mercer said.
Glenn Williams was the quarterback of the 1984 State championship Titan football team. “We never played a home football game under the lights,” Williams said. “I wish we could have because we missed something. I remember that, after practice on Fridays, we would go to a night football game just to get used to the atmosphere before we played at a school that had lights. Night games have a very different feeling. I’m really excited about this game and hope that we can get lights here permanently,” he said.
The portable lights were brought in from Iowa and installed on the track on Thursday. There were five 53-foot tall light poles with six lights each. They were powered by two diesel generators, which were donated by Simpson Development. Musco Lighting is one of the few companies in the country that supplies portable stadium lights.
The cost of the night football game was $25,000, which will be paid for with private funds. “A lot of people have worked very hard to make this happen, and we are all very excited,” said T. C. Principal Suzanne Maxey.
She was the principal at schools in Maryland where Friday night football was taken for granted. “This community is so supportive of T. C., and everyone is having such a good time. It’s good to see so many officials and T. C. graduates here to share this experience,” Maxey said.
Music from the 1970s played on the public address system, and fans wandered the field eating hot dogs and hamburgers and getting autographs from former Titan Coach Herman Boone and members of the 1971 “Remember The Titans” team. “This is very exciting,” said Alexandria City Councilman Frank Fannon. “Of course T. C.’s going to win.”
Before the coin toss, the crowd recognized senior members of the band, the cheerleading squad and the football team. Boone gave each senior football player a signed football to commemorate the occasion.
South County won the toss and kicked off to T. C. That was pretty much the most exciting thing that happened in the first half. Neither team could move the ball, and T. C. was plagued by unnecessary penalties. The first half ended with no points on the board.
During the first half, T. C. inducted Jack Taylor, Alexandria Mayor Bill Euille and Donnie Simpson, Jr, in to the Titan Hall of Fame. Taylor, who owns Alexandria Toyota, has given of his time and money to support T. C. in a variety of ways. Euille, a 1968 T. C. graduate, served on the Alexandria School Board for ten years, as a member of City Council for nine years and as the City’s mayor since 2003. He gives generously of his time and money to support his alma mater. Simpson, also a T. C. alum, played sports at the school in the 1970s and has remained a staunch supporter. He gives generously of his time, money and other support through his company’s development business.
Bands from T. C. and South County entertained the standing-room-only crowd at halftime, and then it was time to resume play.
The third quarter began much as the first half ended, with a series of stalled drives by both teams. Finally, early in the fourth quarter, a South County penalty left T.C. within inches of the Stallion end zone. T.C. scored and never looked back, winning 28-7. The Titan’s record is now 5-4. A win over Robert E. Lee next week will gain them their first play-off berth in years.