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In Our Own Backyard....Friday night lights have a magic all their own

Somehow, I found myself doing the "YMCA" on the top bleacher behind the Hermantown band.

I'm not quite sure how it happened, but it must have been the magical quality of a late autumn eve under the "Friday night lights" of a high school football game. This was no ordinary night, and no ordinary football game, however. This was the night the Cloquet Lumberjacks were playing for a berth in the Minnesota State High School Football Tournament against the Hermantown Hawks.

We misguidedly decided to wait until almost game time to arrive. By then, the stands were packed to overflowing. The Cloquet Pep Band was belting out an enthusiastic rouser and the fans were already on their feet, anticipating the opening kickoff.

We plunged into the mob with heads down and a newfound determination to find a place to light and watch the night's matchup. We must have looked hopelessly overwhelmed, because a member of the Event Staff worked her way over to us through the crowd and yelled in my ear, "There's a little bit of space left in the bleachers behind the Hermantown band....."

And so, we reluctantly left the Lumberjack fans behind and found our way to the top of the bleachers above the band, spread out our blankets and parked there for the remainder of the night.

The rivalry between the 'Jacks and the Hawks was rich with promise, and we were soon caught up in the excitement of the game. And to tell the truth, our seats actually weren't all that bad. We had the chain link fencing to lean against, and for the most part we had a clear view of the field over the top of the band. Only when the Hermantown team scored did the band members scramble to their feet, hurriedly assemble their instruments and blast out a couple of rounds of the school song. Then, they'd settle back down and sprawl across the bleachers to visit about who knows what.

It brought back memories of 40-some years ago, when I played clarinet in the pep band for the Grand Rapids Indians. But we certainly weren't sprawlers. We fancied ourselves more of a marching band than a pep band, and we worked all week during band class and after school to learn our music and routines. We memorized the school song of a new opponent nearly every week, and we also learned a different marching routine and accompanying music to be performed during halftime.

The marching routines were often intricate and had to be learned on paper before we ever got out to the field. Sometimes we'd spell out the initials of the visiting team as well as our own school. Sometimes we'd go for more of a dance routine, with high stepping and fancy maneuvers. Sometimes we'd break out our ranks into the shape of the American flag, and once we even formed a giant car with moving wheels.

It was tricky, anxiety producing and exhilarating all at the same time -- and if you think it's easy trying to peer over a clarinet to see what yard line you're on while trying to remember the next line of music, well, think again!

I'll never forget the night I pivoted on my right foot instead of my left -- and ended up putting on a little side show of my own....

Last Friday night's football game brought back a lot of those old memories, and it was one of the best I've seen in a long time. It was filled with drama, excitement, touchdowns, turnovers, wildly cheering fans and even a few tears.

When Cloquet scored right out of the chute, we could hear the rumble from the stands down on the other end of the grandstand, as hoards of fans stomped their feet in frenzied excitement. Then Hermantown answered with a touchdown of its own. The band members in front of us scurried for their instruments and belted out their school song. The ups and the downs for both sides had everyone whipped into a frenzy, and by the time halftime rolled around we were weak with excitement.

And so, it seemed only natural that when the tinny music blaring over the school's public address system burst into the opening strains of the familiar old "YMCA" song by The Village People, the experience of years of dances and wedding receptions kicked in. The band members in front of us broke flamboyantly into the familiar sweeping arm gestures of Y-M-C-A -- and before I thought about it, so did I!