COTTAGE GROVE, Minn. — Park High School activities director Phil Kuemmel will make the short drive from his home to the school Monday evening, April 6, in Cottage Grove, and, at 8:33 p.m., he’ll flip on the lights at Wolfpack Stadium.
Then he’ll sit in the stands for 20 minutes before turning them off. He won’t be alone in doing so.
The "Be The Light" movement is spreading across the nation, and reached Minnesota over the past week.
John Millea, the Minnesota State High School League’s media specialist, said the movement started on March 24 at Dumas High School in Texas. The school’s principal was driving back home from a meeting when he passed Dumas’ stadium, which was dark. So he changed it. The principal reached out to the school’s football coach about getting the lights turned on each night for all to see. Dumas High School then challenged others in the state to do the same. It has spread from there.
The movement hit Minnesota last week, when Centennial High School in Circle Pines lit up its field on what was supposed to be the first day of lacrosse practices. Millea put the initiative on social media, and schools around the state started joining in. Many schools, largely in the outstate area, participated. Many metro area schools plan to join Monday.
“It’s really been amazing,” Millea said. “I didn’t know what this would be.”
What it’s been to many is a symbol of hope, and a reminder from districts and schools that their students are still at top of mind, even when they aren’t in the building. As of early Sunday afternoon, Millea counted more than 130 Minnesota schools who had either participated in Be The Light or planned to in the coming days.
“There’s unity, right? And solidarity,” North St. Paul activities director Jed Helwig said. “(It’s) to let (students) know that we miss them. We look forward to seeing them as soon as possible.”
Many schools plan to have their stadium lights on sometime between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. Monday. They’ve gotten creative with their time frames, many of which have symbolism. Park is lighting its field at 8:33 p.m. because it’s part of District 833. Oakdale's Tartan High School, part of District 622, will have its lights on for 622 seconds. The school will light its field at 8:20 p.m. — 20:20 Army time — to honor its senior class.
Locally, Perham and Wadena-Deer Creek are both participating in the event. Wadena-Deer Creek will turn the lights on at 8:20 p.m. for 20 minutes at the football field. Perham will turn the lights on at Krueger Field, Meinhover Field and Arvig Park at 9 p.m. for 20 minutes as well.
Those seniors are the ones Kuemmel feels are missing out on the most. They probably won’t get their proms, may not get their graduation ceremony and spring sports athletes will have their final sports season either canceled or significantly abbreviated. For many athletes, Kuemmel noted, that season is their final chance to catch a college program’s attention.
He knows the seniors’ pain as well as anyone. His son, Jake, is a senior.
Millea has heard a couple of primary complaints about the Be The Light movement. No. 1, some have said it is a waste of energy. But Kuemmel noted that normally the lights would be on multiple times a week for sporting events. No. 2, some are concerned it will cause people to gather under the lights.
But school administrators have made it clear that’s not what they want students to do. The lights are meant to be enjoyed from a distance.
“It’s a little bit like the bat signal. We don’t want them to come running or anything like that,” Kuemmel said. “We hope the kids aren’t driving around, but if they’re in Cottage Grove and they see the lights, just to let them know, all of the district, all of Park High School, we’re thinking about you.”
Kuemmel noted that some schools have newer lights that can be operated wirelessly, so ADs can turn them on remotely. He will have to make the short journey to the school, and that’s fine with him. For those 20 minutes, he’ll have a sense of normalcy, and knows eventually, when the time is right, the community will rejoin him in the stands.
“We’re going to get back to normal, and we’re all going to be in these stadiums cheering for our teams,” Millea said. “Who knows when, but we’re going to get there.”