West Xtra: South Side Beaver teams will see the light

HIGH SCHOOLS

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The skies above Hookstown will shine a little brighter on Friday nights this fall.

That's because the South Side Area School District decided to add lights at its Richard Ashcroft Athletic Complex. The initial preparation for the project began after the school year and installation of the light towers began this week.

The addition of lights also brings a big change to the South Side Beaver football team, which traditionally played its home games on Saturday afternoons.

"I am very excited the school board decided to move forward with bringing in permanent lights," South Side athletic director Ron Ledbetter said. "This is something the student body was really excited about and wanted to see happen.

"We brought in portable lights three of the past four years, and I think everyone really enjoyed the atmosphere of a night football game.

"This is exciting and I'm pumped about it."

Saturday afternoon games, however, have stood as a long football tradition in Hookstown.

"I think because it was something that was always done, it made South Side football," Ledbetter said. "There's a part of the community that will really miss it, but the rest are looking forward to moving to Friday nights."

A member of the WPIAL's Class A Big Seven Conference, South Side Beaver will play its entire nine-game schedule on Friday nights for the first time this upcoming season.

The Rams also became the second school from the conference to move away from playing on Saturdays. Shenango had a long tradition of playing on Saturday nights and began moving games to Friday evenings last season.

Western Beaver, however, remains the only Big Seven team without lights at its home field. The Golden Beavers are scheduled to play at South Side this season.

"[The installation of stadium lights] is a long time coming," South Side coach Glenn McDougal said. "People have been talking about lights for 30 years. This is going to be a big change for the community. We've been playing on Saturday afternoon for 30 years.

"With lights, some aren't going to like it that much and some are going to love it. It's a step in the right direction and this is something to be really excited about."

After an 11-year hiatus, McDougal returned to South Side Beaver's sidelines last year. He also coached the program in the 1980s and 1990s and guided the Rams to WPIAL and PIAA Class A championships in 1999.

"Some of the longtime diehards and old-timers looked forward to coming out on a nice day," McDougal said. "For some of the rural community, however, Saturday afternoon is used for working on the farm or around the house. The same goes for the students, who couldn't attend games because they're needed for work around the property.

"Friday night games should increase attendance. It may be an adjustment for some, but I think in the long run it's really going to be great."

McDougal, though, understands that he and his coaching staff will likely have to make the biggest adjustment.

"It's definitely going to affect our schedule," McDougal said. "Since we usually had Friday nights off, we would scout other teams personally. That's not going to be possible, so we're going to have our junior high coaches take care of the full scouting regime now.

"We won't have that extra day of preparation, either."

The Rams will play host to their first night game under the lights Sept. 6 against conference foe Sto-Rox.

"This should definitely make my job a lot easier," Ledbetter said. "We're still trying to juggle things around with scheduling, but it's something the kids are really excited about."

Besides the football team, South Side Beaver's boys and girls soccer teams as well as the middle school's football team will benefit from the addition of lights.

"We also have the WPIAL track qualifier here," Ledbetter said. "We're usually done with all of the events before it gets dark, but if we do run late or it's an overcast day, it will be nice to be able to flip that switch to have lights."

The lights will be officially unveiled on Aug. 15 at South Side's fall sports kickoff night.

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