On March 24, an administrator at a high school in the Texas panhandle was driving home from a meeting in Amarillo. In the evening darkness, in the midst of fears about Covid-19, he had a thought: Is there a way to shine some light for all to see?
Dumas High School principal Brett Beesley called football coach Aaron Dunnam, Beesley told local media in Texas. "I asked Aaron what he thought if we turned our football stadium lights on every night from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m., to show the students in Dumas we're thinking about them. Aaron loved it and ran to the stadium and flipped them on. I then thought, 'Why not challenge other schools to do the same?' It's a way to show our kids we'll be back, and a sign of hope."
From Dumas to all over Texas and beyond – including here in Minnesota -- #BeTheLight has become a big deal. I learned about it by seeing Tweets from Colorado, where Colorado High School Activities Association assistant commissioner Adam Bright had seen Tweets from Texas schools.
My friend Ryan Casey, the director of digital media at the CHSAA, Tweeted this on Tuesday, March 31: "Stadiums across Colorado lit up on Monday night as schools and districts sought to offer a beacon of hope to their students. #copreps #bethelightCO @AdamCHSAA
I retweeted Ryan's message with these words: "This is such a simple and great idea. How many #mshsl schools will flip on their stadium lights every Monday night in support of students?"
And here we are now, with approximately 250 Minnesota high schools turning on stadium lights one or two evenings per week or Monday through Friday. It has been incredible to see so many schools join in this effort to show support for and solidarity with their students, staff and communities. Lights have gone on at football/soccer/lacrosse stadiums, baseball and softball fields, tennis courts, all over the state.
Entire conferences have come on board, including schools in the Gopher Conference: Bethlehem Academy, Blooming Prairie, Hayfield, Maple River, Medford, New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva, United South Central and Waterville-Elysian-Morristown.
The complete list of participating schools can be found on the MSHSL Facebook page.
Schools have stressed that they don't want people who see the lights to gather. Some have recommended that people are welcome to drive past the stadiums, forming a long line of headlights, and others have asked the public to also turn on their porch lights in a show of unity.
Many schools have posted inspiring messages on Twitter:
Albany: "Lights will be on 8:00p-8:20p this coming Monday at Micheal Field/Herges Stadium. 20 min to recognize Class of 2020. Follow MDH guidelines-no gathering/groups-but let's see a line of headlights to show off our Purple Pride and support for our students!!!"
Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted: "HLWW will turn on the lights at the FB field Monday at 9 pm for 20 minutes as a "Ray of Hope" for the Class of 2020. This also serves as a Community Ray of Hope for our health workers, businesses, firemen, police & everyone in our three towns. Use your porch lights!"
Tartan High School in Oakdale is part of District 622, and the lights at Tartan Stadium will be lit on Monday at 20:20 (8:20 p.m.) for 622 seconds. At Norwood Young America, part of District 108, lights will go on for 108 minutes.
Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City's announcement mentioned "Three towns, united as one, shining bright with hope." St. Croix Prep's Twitter note said, "We miss our students and want you to know we are here! Enjoy the lights but continue to practice social distancing."
In a follow-up Tweet, St. Croix Prep said, "It's a little thing but it's little things like this that help us feel like we are doing something. And that we have a visible way to show we are all still together even when we are apart.”
There have been personal touches, too.
Marie Hansen, a teacher at Burnsville High School, posted this on Twitter: “I'm the least sporty person, but are you even a high school teacher if you're not sobbing over all these Friday Night Lights left on to light the way back home for the kids who will come back to fill these stadiums and schools someday??”
Be The Light Minnesota.--Follow John on Twitter @MSHSLjohn, listen to "Preps Today with John Millea” wherever you get podcasts and hear him on Minnesota Public Radio.