BURRILLVILLE — There’s a unique buzz around this tight-knit community this week, and with good reason. Rare is the occasion when Alumni Field is transformed into a nighttime operation.
With an intriguing early-season Division III matchup serving as the centerpiece of what figures to be a unique and special day in the long, rich history of the Burrillville High football program, it seems appropriate to at long last proclaim the following: “Friday Night Lights” has come to the campus located just down the road from the Route 102 and East Avenue intersection.
The foreign glow emanating from Alumni Field will not be solely reserved for the Burrillville gridders and its foe for the evening, league newcomer Mount Pleasant. Also on the docket Friday night is a salute to the Broncos’ 2003 undefeated Division III Super Bowl squad and also the various players, coaches and administrators who comprise the Burrillville Patriots’ Youth Football and Cheerleading organization.
Both recognitions will take place at halftime.
“We’re trying to turn this into a community event more than just a high school football game,” Burrillville Athletic Director John Abbate expressed.
Added Gennaro Ferraro, head football coach of the Broncos: “It’s an exciting opportunity to showcase football in the town. It’s good to get the community together at an event like this. I’m just so excited to know that a football game on Friday night is going to serve as the central place where people in the town are going to gather.”
How this unusual treat came to pass was the result of several months of intense and well thought-out planning. Smithfield-based United Rentals is graciously donating 13 towers of portable lights – 12 for the field with the 13th designed to assist patrons as they settle into their seats. Area folks may remember that this same company played a significant hand in decking out Woonsocket’s Barry Field for last year’s Division II semifinal-round football contest.
In keeping with United Rentals’ kind-hearted gesture, Ferraro said there are plans to equally distribute tonight’s gate receipts between the Burrillville Patriots and the Burrillville Gridiron Club.
“I know we couldn’t have afforded it without them donating the lights, so it’s certainly appreciated,” Abbate said. “We started talking about having something like this at the end of (the 2012-13 school year) and into early summer. Everything just fell into place as time went on. There wasn’t any special holdup or anything; we were ready to go when we had to be.”
Abbate mentioned that the lights were delivered to Alumni Field Thursday morning with an eye toward Ferraro putting his players through a light workout under the cover of bright wattage. (The lights will be collected on Saturday morning.)
“We’ve played under the lights before. For us, the big thing is going to be the acclimation of the change in scenery that the players have been so used to at our place,” Ferraro said. “It’s going to be important to adapt to portable lights and what they look like. It’s important to (stage a dry run) so that come Friday, it’s game time.”
“Gennaro wants to get the kids as used to it as much as he can,” Abbate delved further.
Ferraro was an assistant coach on that memorable ’03 Broncos squad. As of earlier this week, he was expecting between 12-15 former players to stop by Alumni Field and take some well-deserved bows.
“One of the benefits of this job is that you see boys turn to men,” Ferraro expressed about the portion of the evening specifically dedicated to reminiscing about past Bronco success. “It’s really something you don’t see until later.”
Abbate noted that Ferraro is deeply invested in the Burrillville Patriots.
“Anyone who comes to the game in a jersey gets in for free and will get honored at halftime,” Ferraro pointed out.
Could Friday’s “lights for a night” rodeo serve as the drum beat for lights to someday become a permanent feature at Alumni Field?
“If everything goes really well, I hope that everybody in the community sees the value of having lights,” said Abbate, noting that Burrillville’s last night football game took place in the early 2000s at Eccleston Field. “It’s something that’s been talked about, but funding has been the issue.”
“I wouldn’t oppose it,” said Ferraro about Friday perhaps being the impetus for “Friday Night Lights” and Alumni Field to become possibly joined at the hip.
As for the action on the field, it will be interesting to see if Burrillville can build off last weekend’s come-from-behind performance against defending league champ Middletown. Mount Pleasant is fresh on the Division III scene after winning three straight Division IV Super Bowls.
“This group here accepts all challenges, and Mount Pleasant is a good team,” said Ferraro. “They have superior athleticism and fly around the field.”
Burrillville will look to up its league record to 2-0, a feat that three area Division II clubs will try to equal this evening. Cumberland and Woonsocket hit the road to face Rogers and Warwick Vets, respectively, while Shea hosts Central.
Tolman, Lincoln, Central Falls and St. Raphael all are still seeking a win of any kind after falling in non-league action two weeks ago and dropping its respective league openers. All four schools hit the turf Friday with Tolman traveling to La Salle while St. Raphael and Lincoln are home to Ponaganset and West Warwick, respectively. C.F. will roll out the welcome mat for the PCD Co-op contingent.
The area’s lone game on Saturday pits 1-0 North Smithfield hitting the road for a Division IV matchup against 1-0 Exeter/West Greenwich.
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03