DETROIT — Wednesday’s Glen Lake football team send-off included two police vehicles and three fire trucks.
Friday, the Lakers found themselves welcomed into Ford Field by a familiar group from a different school.
Not Monroe St. Mary, Glen Lake’s foe in the Division 6 state championship game. The Falcons would top the Lakers in a tight 7-0 game, with the unusual sound of a band backing them up.
The Forest Area Warriors marching band trekked 231 miles from Forest Area High School to downtown Detroit as a school with no football team played music for one with no band.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” Forest Area senior clarinet player Ashley Pecket said. “I remember walking through that tunnel. My heart dropped, it was so huge and there was so much energy. Then walking out on there and playing and hearing how well our band sounded, it was ridiculously crazy. I loved it.”
Thirty-eight band members and an entourage of 10 made the trip and eighth-year band director Brandon Deike conducted the Warriors-Lakers marriage Friday. A couple couldn’t make it, and middle school musicians filled in for them.
The Warriors played during the Lakers’ 31-7 win over Gladstone on Sept. 27, learning Glen Lake’s fight song in a day.
The fight song is something Lakers players haven’t heard live at their games at either the middle school or high school levels as Glen Lake’s music program is plagued by low numbers, much like Forest Area’s football team had issues with on the gridiron.
“That’s something we do on a daily basis in class,” senior alto saxophonist Catherine Gillette said. “We work on sight reading pieces and then playing them, but it was very stressful to be playing their fight song when we had never played it before in front of them.”
Travel, weather and conflicts made sure Forest Area wasn’t able to play again for the Lakers during the regular season or Glen Lake’s first four playoff contests. The Warriors did send a student section to Glen Lake’s regular-season finale, a 35-7 win over Grayling. For that game, Glen Lake’s 12-member middle school band — along with junior football player Jacob Gardzulis — played.
“Being able to do this for another school that has had the same stress as us in missing a big impact of what school is about — extracurricular activities,” said Forest Area sophomore trumpeter Matthew Kovalcsik, who played football for the Warriors before the season was canceled after two games with a 1-1 record. “It’s just amazing to do. It’s mind boggling to be on an NFL field that most people never get to experience.”
Forest Area hadn’t played for an audience in more than a month, switching to concert mode. Then the Lakers’ playoff run started.
Fellow sophomore Sir-Xaiver Navoni saw his football season end too soon, but was able to experience some extra vicariously through the Lakers.
“You’re so used to rooting for your own team,” said Navoni, who plays saxophone and bass drum. “And you’re like, ‘Yes this is ours,’ but then you join another team and you’re like, ‘Okay, this is weird but I’ll hang on with them.’ Literally, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
The Warriors team plans to return to the field next season and compete in eight-player football, which holds its state championships at the Superior Dome in Marquette, meaning the Warriors almost certainly won’t have another opportunity to play at Ford Field again.
Forest Area performed the national anthem prior to the championship game, then marched at halftime while playing the “2001” theme, Star Wars’ main title song and “Super Mario Galaxy.” The Warriors broke out numerous songs during timeouts and other stoppages in play, including Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk” during a fourth-quarter timeout. Deike joined the band on drums.
Mid-October was the last time the Warriors played that material live, at a band event at Thirlby Field in Traverse City. Forest Area had just two practices this week, with school in session only a pair of days ahead of Thanksgiving break.
Glen Lake athletic director Mark Mattson said the Lakers are building their music program back up, and seeing another band play at their game will hopefully spur more interest.
“Brandon and the kids have really helped us build energy,” Mattson said.
When Deike asked the band if they wanted to join the Lakers again, the support was as resounding as a bass drum.
“I said, ‘Guys, it’s a Friday, it’s the holiday weekend. It’s up to you. If you want to make this happen, sure, put your hand up in the air and show me you want to do it,’” Deike said. “And all the hands went up.”