Friday Night Lights Out

And then back on again. What the contretemps over football in New Hope is really about.

When I heard earlier this month about the decision by the New Hope-Solebury school board to cancel nighttime sporting events at their high-school stadium, I couldn’t believe it. Who would mess with Friday night high-school football? It’s … American. It’s wholesome! Why, it’s so iconic that there have been a best-selling book, a movie and a beloved, long-running TV series on the subject. You can’t just pull the plug on something like that.

The rationale the school board gave was unfathomable: Residents of homes on properties that abut the football stadium were up in arms because the lights from those Friday night games were so gosh-darned bright! The fans in the stands were so loud! The music was so rowdy! And the poor residents of Riverstone Circle had to endure this terrible, terrible hardship for six nights every football season, since that’s how many home games there are. Six nights out of 365, every single year. Oh, the humanity!

Closing down Friday night football wasn’t the only option on the agenda on the night the school board broke the hearts of New Hope-Solebury’s athletic supporters, though. There was also a decision to make about paying an architect $14,000 to look into the possibility of building a new stadium far, far away from the $900,000-or-so homes along Circlestone Drive, which, as you can see from the photo on the link, really do back right the hell up onto the football stadium. It just so happens that I live half a block from the high-school football stadium in my town, and I can tell you, on Friday nights during football season, I, too, hear the roar of the crowds and the rowdy music through my open windows. The thing is, I noticed when I bought my house that it was half a block away from the football stadium. And since the football stadium was there, I kind of figured they’d be playing football in it. Call me crazy, but that’s the conclusion I drew.

But as it happens, I grew up in the next town over from New Hope, and somewhere in the back of my mind, I remembered that back in the day, New Hope was the weirdo school that didn’t have a football team. It was too artsy, I guess—too many hippies who objected to the brutal, territorial nature of the game. Anyway, sure enough, it turns out New Hope-Solebury only restarted its football team in 2009, after a 50-year hiatus. So I could almost understand that if you had bought your home there 20 years ago, say, when there was no football, and then all of a sudden there was football, that could be a little disconcerting. On those six nights a year, I mean.

But then I read the Inquirer article about the school board vote more carefully. It quoted Cobie Hoek, 53, who “has lived on Riverstone Circle with her family for three years.” Huh. So there certainly was Friday night football at New Hope-Solebury when Hoek and her kin took up residence in their home. Yet the lights are so bright and the music is so loud, on certain crisp autumn evenings, that it “often drives them from the house,” the Inquirer says. Often. Well, okay, it’s not just football. There’s also one night game per year for each of the other fall sports at New Hope Solebury—field hockey and boys’ and girls’ soccer—and in spring, one night each for boys’ and girls’ lacrosse. They’re the Senior Nights—remember Senior Nights? A nice, wholesome tradition. But oh, the noise! The lights! They’re as bright as daylight! So poor Cobie Hoek and her family are driven from their home for a grand total of, let’s say, two hours at a stretch on fewer than a dozen evenings per year there on Riverstone Circle. (I guess they’ve never heard of headphones and drapes.) And none of those events goes later than 10 p.m.

There’s a reason, of course, why Cobie wanted the night games shut down so badly. “I didn’t realize it’d be so intrusive,” she told the Inquirer about that football stadium right in the backyard of the house she bought three years ago. I mean. You know? You’re plunking down nearly a million bucks for your house, but do you look out the back windows to see what’s there? Apparently, if you’re Cobie, you do not.

After the school board voted to shut down the night games, Cobie and her neighbors got to hear another unwelcome noise: that of hundreds of fellow residents outraged that a handful of newcomer elitists who don’t much care for football managed to talk the school board (at least one member of which also lives on the Riverstone cul-de-sac) into depriving them of a time-honored small-town tradition, even if it’s one that isn’t particularly time-honored in New Hope. In the wake of this public tsunami of ire, the school board last week reversed its earlier cancellation of night games in the stadium and ordered the lights kept on. For now. Though the board also announced that donors—gee, I wonder if any of them might be residents of Riverstone Circle and have last names beginning with H?—have raised $360,000 toward building a new stadium—in someone else’s backyard. Architect on!

All of which makes me happy to live on a street where the houses cost a tenth of what the ones on Riverstone Circle do. We may not be as rich as Cobie Hoek, but we have a pretty firm grasp of what Friday night lights are all about.