Wristen: Applebee builds family atmosphere at Mill Valley
A carnival-like atmosphere overtook Jaguar Stadium Friday night at Mill Valley High School.
Rock music blared over the sound system, kids played on inflatable games, and the smell of hot dogs and burgers wafted off of the grill.
It seemed the only amenities missing were a Big Top Tent and pony rides.
But this was no carnival. Instead, it was Mill Valley Night Lights — the second annual celebration of the start of high school football season. It’s the creation of second-year MVHS coach Joel Applebee, and it’s as impressive an event as you’ll find in local high school football.
Upon arrival last year at Mill Valley, Applebee sought to develop a personal bond between local youth football teams and the MVHS program. It happened almost overnight as a football-hungry MVHS community jumped on board and made the inaugural event an overwhelming success.
Round two of Mill Valley Night Lights saw an even greater turnout Friday night. Parking spots were nearly impossible to find for the three-hour event that brought together 14 squads from the Mill Valley Junior Football and Cheer Association ranging from kindergarten through sixth-grade, as well as the Monticello Trails Middle School seventh- and eighth-graders and the Mill Valley High School squads.
The atmosphere resembled a sold-out playoff game as both the home and visitors’ stands were filled to capacity at times, and fans roared their approval at every big hit and pad-popping hit.
What’s impressive about what Applebee has created in less than two full seasons is that’s he’s done more than energize a fan base; he has truly expanded the Mill Valley football community to the point where players who will be the stars of Jaguar Stadium a decade from now are filling the stadium, wearing their MVJFCA Jaguars football jerseys with pride and developing a relationship with the current squad.
“This is what it’s all about,” Applebee said after the scrimmage. “It’s all about the kids, and getting these junior football kids out there and allowing them to get a few reps on the game field and seeing their eyes light up. They look up to those high school kids too, and having those high school kids out there with them … it’s great night for Jaguar football all around.”
Friday night went off without a hitch. Now, the challenge for the Jaguars is to build off of that positive energy by delivering a dynamite season. Expectations are high — the Jags are ranked No. 12 in the Metro Sports Super 25 preseason poll — and the season begins at 7 p.m. Friday at Lansing.