High school football attendance suffers during Huskers’ Friday night game

High school football attendance suffers during Huskers’ Friday night game
World-Herald News Service

He didn’t know it, but Bob Brunz was one of the most popular guys Friday night at Buell Stadium.

The iPad on his lap showing the Nebraska game made it so.

Brunz was attending the game between Grand Island and Millard South. He had driven from Crete to watch his grandson, sophomore Conner Braley, play for the Millard South Patriots.

But thanks to his FoxSports App, he also was keeping an eye on the Huskers. Though Brunz tried to keep the NU game somewhat on the down-low, several fans sitting behind him were watching over his shoulder.

Such is life when Nebraska’s game against Illinois falls on a Friday night, an evening usually reserved for high school football.

“It wasn’t a tough decision to come out here,” Brunz said. “But I don’t think it’s a good idea for the Huskers to be playing tonight, and I don’t know anybody who does.”

That also goes for Millard South head coach Andy Means, himself a former Husker in the late 1970s. A walk-on from Holdrege, the defensive back was a member of the Nebraska team that posted a 17-14 upset win over top-ranked Oklahoma in 1978.

“I don’t like it, especially in this state,” Means said. “When Nebraska plays on a Friday night, it takes away from the high schools having the stage.”

The head-to-head conflict was on the minds of high school fans and officials across the state.

Greg Lamberty, athletic director at Bennington Public Schools, said gate receipts were down $400 compared to the high school’s last home game. After halftime fans cleared out, he said, but that may also have had something to do with the score: Gretna beat Bennington, 49-0.

Attendance was down in Alliance in that high school’s game against Hastings.

“Small crowd for a homecoming game anyway,” one school official said.

In Omaha, Means said he was just happy the Huskers weren’t playing at home.

“That would have been worse,” he said. “No doubt about it.”

While several schools moved their games to Thursday night to avoid a conflict with NU, Millard South — which shares Buell Stadium with the other two Millard high schools — didn’t have that option. Millard North hosted Kearney on Thursday night at Buell.

It also was homecoming for Millard South, so keeping the game on Friday night was a priority.

“We could have moved it to Thursday afternoon or Saturday night,” Patriots Athletic Director Steve Throne said. “But that would have screwed some other things up.”

Throne, like several other athletic directors, decided it was best to stay with the original plan and hope for the best.

Before the game, Millard South parents Paul and Michelle Nerz were guarding a special parking area reserved for boosters. The couple drove two cars because it wasn’t certain whether Paul, wearing a Nebraska shirt and sitting in a Husker chair, would stay until the end of the Patriots game.

His stepdaughter was performing with the dance team at halftime, so Paul said he’d be at the game at least that long.

“It was a very tough decision to come tonight,” he said. “The dance team will have my undivided attention, but otherwise I’ll be watching the Huskers on my app.”

Millard South student Kaitlin Wagner, decked out in a toga like the rest of the seniors, said she wasn’t going to miss the game.

“I had to be here,” she said. “And I think the fact the Huskers haven’t been looking so good made the decision a pretty easy one for a lot of kids.”

Across the field, Omahan Robert Melgoza — cheering on his nephew, Islanders wide receiver Jaden Melgoza — was wearing a No. 3 Husker jersey. It didn’t bother him that he had donned red when others in the Grand Island section were wearing the team color of purple.

“I really wanted to stay home and watch the (Nebraska) game,” he said. “But I don’t get a chance to see him play much so I wanted to be here.”

Several fans wore headphones and were obviously listening to the Huskers. Some, such as Brunz, watched both games at the same time.

At Buell Stadium, Millard South grabbed an early 7-0 lead. Shortly after in Champaign, Illinois, De’Mornay Pierson-El scored the Huskers’ first touchdown.

While there wasn’t a roar at Buell when NU scored, word spread quickly. Some fans started high-fiving.

Throne said the crowd Friday night was bigger than he expected, perhaps because of homecoming. He added that he had hoped Grand Island would bring more fans but said the NU game probably held the number down.

“I’m a huge Husker fan,” he said. “But playing on the same night as the high schools is just a bad idea.”