A man stood on the other side of a six-foot chain link fence. He leaned against his bike, Apple AirPods in his ears, watching the fourth quarter of Omaha Westside’s 42-0 win over Creighton Prep. He hadn’t planned to be there, but he saw the scoreboard lit up from across the road and decided to stop. He knew he wouldn’t get in.
“But it’s nice to just see it and hear it,” he said as his eyes locked forward on the field.
There are a number of stories that will come out of Thursday night’s matchup between the Warriors and Junior Jays. People will tell the stories of highly-rated recruits on both sides, many of whom have committed to top programs or plan to soon. Others will talk about Westside’s dominant shutout, which is reason to believe the Warriors have a real shot at a state title in 2020 when it’s all said and done.
But there was another story peering over the fences at every single one of Westside’s touchdowns.
A group of young women, perched on the birm outside of the fence, sat and laughed until about halftime. Another group took their place after they left, hanging on the fence and looking through toward the field. The second group were students at Westside High School, but not family, which was why they couldn’t sit in the stands.
The Omaha Metro Conference—which is made up of Bellevue, Millard and Papillion-La Vista schools, plus Omaha Westside, Creighton Prep, Elkhorn South and Gretna—have attendance limits for athletic events this fall. Each participant is limited to four family member for both home and visiting teams. Vouchers given to each participant can then be used to purchase tickets at events.
For those hoping for a taste of high school football, Thursday night presented the opportunity. And no one wanted to miss the rematch between preseason No. 6 Prep and No. 1 Westside, especially after the Warriors beat the Junior Jays, 49-13, in last year’s Class A first round. Sure, the game was televised locally in Omaha and streamed online for those who wanted to watch from home, but many wanted to just experience it in-person once again.
That’s why lawn chairs started popping up on the hill east of the stadium before kickoff. A home across the street with a balcony perfectly positioned to see into Westside’s Phelps Field hosted a small gathering of people decked in red and black. They may not have been in the stadium, but they were close enough.
Yes, close enough to hear the touchdown from Minnesota commit Avante Dickerson early in the second quarter. Close enough to hear the touchdown from quarterback Kolby Brown—son of former Husker Kris Brown—to start the second half. Close enough to hear every single one of Westside’s points scored, safely outside the confines of the stadium.
It wasn’t perfect. Acoustics are tough without a big crowd, and coaches’ voices carried into the grandstand between plays. Family members did their best to create as much of an atmosphere as possible, but pieces were still missing like the band and student sections. Cheerleaders and the dance team—for the home squad only—did their best with the crowd they were given. It was still a little awkward at times even through the best of it.
No one cared. Everyone—whether they were sitting in the stands or sitting just outside the fences—were there just to experience it all. By the time the clock ran out and Westside ran onto the field in celebration, it felt normal for just a moment.
Outside the fence, those with lawn chairs packed up their things and headed for their cars. They weren’t allowed in.
But sometimes, it’s nice to just see it and hear it.