Off the gridiron

Planning, people required to host Friday night football game is out of bounds

The sophomore Red Devil football players are on the field, shaking hands with their opponents from Glenbard West at the end of their game. Mayhem reigns in the south end zone.

Hundreds of Falcon Football players and cheerleaders are waiting for their coaches' signal to swarm the field, which they do at 7:05 p.m. After some additional shouting and gesturing from coaches, they manage to create two lines for the varsity football players to run through. The Central marching band drumline is playing. Kids are screaming. The "Make Some Noise" graphic that pops up on the scoreboard later in the game is unnecessary at this point.

The crowd quiets, respectful, as varsity football coach Brian Griffin welcomes military veterans to the field for the annual Salute to Service. Announcer (and former Hinsdale Central athletic director) Dan Jones introduces each of the vets before sprinting across the track, hopping over the fence and scurrying up the bleachers to the broadcast booth.

Soon he's letting the crowd know that the 350 marching band members, cheerleaders and pommers on the field are about to perform the school's alma mater.

The National Anthem follows - with the freshman football team on the field waving a giant flag.

Soon the buzzer sounds, the Hilltoppers kick off and the game begins. Fans focus on the action on the gridiron. But there's an incredible amount going on off the field as well.

"It really takes a lot of people to run a successful Friday night football game," Central athletic director Mike Jezioro tells The Hinsdalean a few days after the game. "While most everybody's attention is on the field, there's about a million things going on in the background all at once."

When asked what goes into planning a football game, he laughs.

"I think it takes a lot of planning. It takes a lot of people, from making sure that we have enough staff members to staff gates and security areas and press boxes and the sidelines," he said.

The number of staff required ranges from 18 for a normal game to 25 or 30 for a heavily attended game against an opponent like LT. The home bleachers seat about 2,900, and away fans can bring that total up to 3,500 or 4,000.

Speaking of the visiting team, its coaches have to be told where the players should be dropped off, where the locker rooms are, where to warm up. Tents - like the one where the vets gather - and barricades have to be set up. The grounds crew starts work on the field Thursday night or Friday morning at the latest, Jezioro says.

"Usually by noon or 1 p.m., myself and my assistant AD are outside checking stuff," he says. "It's pretty much all day somebody is prepping something."

Back to the game

After they finish playing the "Star Spangled Banner," the marching band heads to the bleachers in the north end zone. Between musicians and the color guard, the group numbers 190. They've been at Dickinson Field since their 5:30 p.m. call time, director Matt Kurinsky said. They perform a new song at each Central home game.

"We try to do like a Big 10 school," Kurinsky says.

He's soon interrupted by the drumline. Whenever the clock stops and the Devils are on defense, the band starts up with a drum cadence or other selection.

"We try to play as often as we can," Kurinsky notes.

Band members practice 50 minutes in class every day and Tuesday nights for three hours the week of home games to get ready.

One student carries not an instrument, but a camera. He's livestreaming the band's performances, Kurinsky explains.

At the opposite end of the field, a dozen or so members of the Hispanic Student Association are working in the concession booth, earning $250 from the Booster Club which manages it. Business is booming.

"The varsity game is always really busy. We're on our feet the entire game," club sponsor Bianca Holland said.

Just how many people are at Dickinson Field? It's tough to estimate, with players, coaches, officials, cheerleaders, pommers, band members, the team doc, security workers, AV crew, equipment managers, photographers and fans. It's organized chaos - and the folks monitoring that chaos are up in the booth.

Jones is at the microphone, surrounded by printed out rosters for Central and Glenbard West, a binder containing the script for the evening and a list of synonyms for the word "group" clearly written in a female hand (his daughter Lily's).

To his left is Ruben Peña on the play clock, Steve Erzig on the game clock and Joe Battaglia running graphics. To his right sits his son, Jake, with a pair of binoculars, and a reporter. Lily paces in the background.

There's a lot to keep track of, but Jones doesn't have to do it alone.

"We all spot. If we see who makes a catch or a run we call out numbers," Peña said.

"Hand off inside," someone yells out, illustrating Peña's point.

While action is stopped on the field, the group strategizes with Jones. The current topic? How to ask the fans for more cowbell.

Play resumes and the Devils get their first touchdown, a pass from quarterback Riley Contreras to his brother, wide receiver Carter Contreras.

"O brother, where art thou? Thou art in the end zone," Jones says into the mic.

His boothmates are impressed. But the need for catchy phrases continues, so the group continues brainstorming words for "group."

"Legion is a good one," someone yells out. Jones ends up using "bouquet," a questionable choice.

But as the minutes wind down in the second quarter, Jones recovers, inspired by Christopher Walken's famous SNL skit.

"I've got a fever, and the only cure is more cowbell," he speaks into the microphone.

In the midst of all the banter, everyone in the booth also has to pay close attention to what's happening on the field.

"It's choreographed really down to the minute," Peña notes.

Halftime is approaching, so talk turns to the concession stand. Battaglia works on a graphic while Jones encourages folks to head over for a bite.

"Tell 'em Dan sent you," he says.

Soon Battaglia's graphic is on the scoreboard, an old-fashioned cartoon with dancing snacks and a "Let's all go to the lobby" soundtrack, circa 1950.

When the halftime buzzer sounds, it's time for Jones to pull out his script, letting fans know the marching band is performing a piece from "SpongeBob Squarepants: The Broadway Musical." Battaglia throws a Sponge Bob cartoon up on the scoreboard.

"You're a wizard, Joe," Jones says.

After the band performs, varsity poms coach Katie Maley hands Jones a hand-written piece of paper with the name of the students who choreographed tonight's routine. He reads the names to the crowd. The 26 girls are dancing to the song "Gecko" by Overdrive.

For everyone in the booth, halftime offers a breather.

Jones shares that this is not his first announcing gig. He's broadcast wrestling matches and volleyball games and filled in during football games at Northern Illinois University.

"I always had that face for radio," he jests.

Then he pauses and shares a story about how he started delivering the morning announcements during the 15 years he taught middle school.

"I think that's where I started my 'career,' " he says.

Jezioro thinks Jones does an amazing job announcing the games.

"Most ADs, we love to have a microphone in our hand for some reason. It's a natural transition for Dan to move up there and keep talking," Jezioro says.

And if Jezioro has a question, he knows where to turn.

"It's a benefit because obviously he was here for such a long time. I'm fortunate if something comes up - it works out great for me," he remarks.

Jezioro says he's never quite sure what might come up, from a kid separated from his parents to a need for more singles at the gate. But despite the number of moving pieces and all the unknowns, he wouldn't be anywhere else. He's loved this scene since he was an athlete himself.

"I enjoyed high school athletics so much, I decided to be in high school for the rest of my life," he says.

Author Bio

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Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean