NOTE: Each week throughout the school year, we will visit a school across Eastern Carver County Schools. Some weeks the plan may be to stop in multiple classrooms by grade, or by subject. Other weeks it may highlight a certain specialist group. The purpose is to give families and our community a glimpse into the every-day learning environment happening in our buildings. A chance to spotlight the incredible work our teachers and staff do on a daily basis for our students, and to showcase the incredible work our students produce as well. So, keep your Eye on ECCS!
Friday Night Lights is more than a high school football game. It is a community event. Even more so when Chanhassen and Chaska meet.
It is an event that brings the district together, whether one is wearing purple or navy blue. Whether one cheers for the Storm or the Hawks.
There’s school bands, mascots, cheerleaders, student section themes, halftime performances, and hundreds of Chaska Chanhassen Football Association athletes tearing across the field with pride.
There’s a Tackle Cancer fundraiser before and during the game. Most years it hits too close to home. This year, Bluff Creek Elementary fifth grader Owen Macik was honored. Macik was diagnosed with T-Cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia in May.
While Owen recovers at the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital, his Bluff Creek classmates came together at the football game to help the Chanhassen and Chaska teams raise money to both support cancer research and local cancer families.
The Macik Family is grateful that sharing Owen's story will help to bring greater awareness to childhood cancer. Those unable to attend last Friday’s game can still donate to #OwenStrong on Venmo. The fundraiser account is @Gridiron-Football.
Owen’s mother, Kelly, works in the College and Career Resource Center at Chanhassen High School.
Already this year at Chanhassen High School, more than 2,500 tickets were sold for home football games with Owatonna (Sept. 8), Waconia (Sept. 22) and Mankato West (Sept. 29). That number certainly would have been topped a fourth time if not for a large rainstorm that blanketed the state for much of two days last week.
Despite the light rain and windy conditions, a large crowd, including full student sections for both schools – some students arrived 90 minutes early for the best seats – filled much of the stadium bleachers.
“The Homecoming game with Waconia, that was the largest crowd I’ve ever seen,” Chanhassen athletic director Mike Bailey, a former head football coach in the program as well, said. “We ran out of parking for that one really fast.”
Chanhassen enters the post-season undefeated with an 8-0 record. The only other time the Storm accomplished a perfect eight-game regular season schedule came in 2016 (Chanhassen went 5-0 in a shortened 2020 season). This time Chanhassen is ranked No. 1 in Class 5A; the first time in program history the Storm hold the top spot.
Chanhassen claimed the traveling Jug trophy for a second straight year with a 21-0 win over rival Chaska. First-half scores from Dominic Castagnetto and Daxton Bush from quarterback Brayden Windschitl were too much to overcome for the Hawks (4-4).
For all of the action on the field, behind the scenes, though, are countless hours of preparation and then execution.
THE GAME PLAN
Betty Johnson in the athletic department office prepares for each game by mid-week. Rosters gathered from opposing schools and printed up. Signage for patrons as they enter the stadium are placed. She is in charge of making sure the ticket gate is staffed, not only for football, but for all varsity events that charge admission.
“We’re really fortunate to have a great group of people that sign-up. Occasionally there’s a game where I can’t find someone and I have to work,” Johnson said. Some are staff members, most are from the community. Their kids maybe once played, an opportunity to stay involved.
The gates open 90 minutes before kick-off, well before the teams take the field for warm-ups.
It takes a small village on Friday nights.
The work begins mid-afternoon as Bailey and evening coordinator Jackson Nash head out to the field to place the yard markers and end zone pylons. They put up tents for both teams.
“Teams have their Hudl instant replay TVs and they need to be out of any elements,” Bailey said.
They check the audio systems and make sure the concession stand is ready for the Storm Boosters to arrive and begin their preparations.
Visiting teams receive a welcome letter from Bailey at the beginning of the week that details where buses should park and where the team’s locker room is.
The pregame schedule from 5:30 p.m. to the opening kick-off is planned minute-by-minute
In the press box alone, there are five people. Denny Laufenburger, former mayor of Chanhassen, has been the voice of the Storm for more than a decade.
“I come back because I love the kids and their families. (It’s) fun to see younger siblings of former players and to watch them grow from scrawny middle schoolers to strong and confident leaders,” Laufenburger said. “I really enjoy the relationship with the guys in the booth with me. We laugh at and with each other. It’s a brotherhood built on enjoyment of the game and our collective desire to deliver quality and precise production of all elements of the game.”
Joining Laufenburger is a spotter that peers through binoculars to call out the number of the ball carrier or the tackler. There is a person on the scoreboard and another that works the game clock. Additionally, there is a statistician to record it all.
On the field, the “chain gang” consists of four people: one on each end of the 10-yard chain, another to place the clip in a certain position so that if the chains get knocked down, or a measurement is needed, shows exactly where the markers should be. A fourth person holds the down marker, showing whether it’s first-, second-, third-, or fourth-down.
“There’s about 10 guys that we rely on each year for these jobs. You can always count on them,” Bailey said.
While teams retreat to the locker room for halftime, Bailey and staff get no rest. The referees are escorted to their shed, hot dogs and warm or cold drinks depending on the time of the year, ready for their arrival.
On the field, the halftime show begins. The weather didn’t allow for a marching band performance, but CCFA youth players in attendance were able to scream across the field. The Storm high school cheer team was joined by youth cheer campers on the sidelines for the game.
On top of the concourse, the concession stand is hopping. The Storm Chasers Booster Club is in charge of staffing the many events each season. Volunteers from the Chanhassen volleyball team and StormHawks gymnastics team were serving up anything warm. Homecoming night the top seller in the concession stand was hot dogs – roughly 400 or so sold. This night, it’s all about the hot chocolate.
While Chanhassen held up the traveling trophy at the end of the night as winners, it was a night of celebration for everyone involved. It was a night where four communities came together as one to support one of its own.
A GLANCE AT ATHLETICS
Fall Sports: 10
Winter Sports: 11
Spring Sports: 10
There are eight cooperative programs between Chaska & Chanhassen HS (StormHawks)
Gymnastics, Boys Swim/Dive, B/G Alpine Ski, B/G Nordic Ski, Girls Hockey, and Wrestling
There are two adaptive sports programs (Southern Stars)
Adaptive Softball and Adaptive Soccer
Cooperative with Shakopee, Prior Lake, Chaska, and Chanhassen
BY THE NUMBERS
153: total teams between both high schools
230: total coaches
2,399: total contests between both high schools
774: number of students that participated on at least one athletic team at Chanhassen
789: number of students that participated on at least one athletic team at Chaska