Firebirds fire up at ‘Midnight Madness’

New life was in the air at the Fairmont football team’s Friday Midnight Madness event on Aug. 6 and 7. Roush Stadium gates opened at 10:30 p.m. for the community and die-hard Firebird fans to hang out in the stands, buy merchandise, and most of all, watch the varsity and junior varsity boys start their season with their first “day” of hitting practice.

The Firebirds, both players and fans, had been looking forward to this night as a kick-off into the new season. “Tonight is a night for the guys to hit and have fun after their hard work in July,” said Fairmont Athletic Director Brian Donoher, surveying the masses of blue and white clad players running drills and shouting like warriors preparing for battle. But the atmosphere of fun rested on the spirit of a fresh start for the team.

‘A new beginning for the team’

The excitement found its way from the field to the stands, where Fairmont students leaned over the railing, cheering, chatting and ignoring the summer heat. Even from the sidelines, people saw a different energy in the players. “It’s a new beginning for the team,” said junior John Rohrbach. Hundreds of parents, students and other community members turned out, many sporting Fairmont shirts and hats sold at the entrance.

As the midnight hour drew closer, people drew to the front rail to catch the action unfolding under the Friday night lights. Senior Ron Booker, a former Firebird football player, watched as his brothers-in-arms drilled. Booker had been following the developments of his team. “We’re not big this year, but we have a lot of talent,” said Booker. What players have emerged as stars to light up the season according to Booker? “The whole entire team. Looking from the sidelines, I can see it’s going to be a really good season.”

Big cleats to fill

The clock struck midnight with the first crack of the pads accompanied by the cheers of hundreds of spectators. The varsity and junior varsity lined up on the sides in their opposite blue and white jerseys. The freshman football players watched the tackles and runs, some setting their sights for their time on the field. Ta’Quan Myles had a few personal goals of his own: “To start for the freshman team, get an interception, and score a touchdown.”

As the evening drew to a close at 1:30 a.m., the players swarmed off the field, high-fiving each other and their friends in the stands. Quarterback Nick Bower looked around at the boys that would join him on the field to do battle against the Alter Knights at their first game on Aug. 27. “I’m feeling good. We have a lot of young guys that are workin’ hard. We’re looking forward to Aug. 27. We’re gonna win of course,” said Bower. The junior who became QB as a sophomore has a big responsibility on the team of over a hundred players and plans to lead the Firebirds to a GWOC Championship.

New coach brings new life

Nobody knows about taking on responsibility quite like Head Coach Andy Aracri. The health and physical education teacher – only in his early 30s – has been coaching at Fairmont for 10 years and is a Fairmont graduate himself. Aracri, or “Coach Rock” as athletes and students address him, took over the position held by Brian Blevins this year. From the players’ perspective, the change came with what senior Brandon Fischer calls “a new vibe.”

“It’s not focused on one individual player, it’s about us coming together as a family,” said Fisher, leaning back on the side bench while student athletic trainer Mikayla Bayer helped bandage his bleeding knee. As an observer, she has noticed a new feeling among the team as well.

“I feel like they’re having more fun with it with Aracri,” said Bayer, scanning the field for the next injury.

But excitement mixed with curiosity at the event, as fans noticed a very prominent absence on the field: Coach Andy Aracri. The young coach was nowhere to be found.

It didn’t take long for the explanation to spread. Aracri had been called away to the hospital where his wife was in labor. It looks like the Fairmont Firebirds’ football team has a new mascot who perfectly represents their spirit of new life: Aracri’s newborn baby girl, Reese.