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On and Off the Field an inside look at what goes into a football game

by: Toni Shindler-Ruberg

Unless otherwise noted, all media by Toni Shindler-Ruberg / M-A Chronicle

(cover photo credit: Bob Dahlberg)

On Friday night, stadium lights flashed to life, glinting off the turf of Coach Park's Field, lighting up the crowd of M-A students who gathered in the stands for the first home game of the season. Unfortunately, the night ended in an overtime defeat (20-26), and the Menlo-Atherton Bears' two-game streak was lost.

The Bears tear through the banner and run onto the field, greeted by spirit team members and a screaming crowd of fans.

Menlo-Atherton's football team. Revered and awed, loved, and feared. Our Bears have gone through thick and thin, but are quickly proving their merit as they lay waste to their opponents. The team defeated both Bellarmine Preparatory (28-0) and Mitty High School (28-21) during the first two games of the season, having lost to both schools around the same time last year. They hoped to produce the same result during the first home game against the Palma Chieftains from Salinas.

What many people don't realize is that a football game takes more preparation and organization than meets the eye. The game relies on the preparation by a series of inter-dependent groups, including the players, the pep band, and the spirit team.

When asked about the commitment required to be a Bear, senior running back and wide receiver De'Marshaun Payton said, “It takes a lot of hard work to be on the team. We work hard every day, we do a lot of conditioning and work hard a lot. It's like being out here with my brothers.”

The varsity Bears began their practice and warm-up drills in the late afternoon, setting a high standard for the game later in the evening. Warm-ups, stretches, drills, and weight training occupied the hour and a half before the game, as players hoped to achieve the perfect spiral and get last minute notes from their coaches.

top: players line up for lunges across the field | middle left: team members hold starting position for drills | middle center: senior safety and wide receiver Malik Johnson |middle right: one of the Bears shows us the true meaning of fashion | bottom: groups of the team practice field goal drills

With the routine Haka chant signaling the beginning of the game, the bears transitioned from a group of individual, joking bros into a focused, unified team of bros.

The Bears prepare themselves and hype up the crowd with a rousing, pre-game chant.

With a dismal start to the game, the team had a comeback during the last moments of the second half, Palma ahead 7-10. As the football team put their tackles, passes, and running to the test, the new “spirit team” (made up of the varsity cheerleading squad and varsity dance team) waited for their turn to shine on the field. Transforming the turf from a stage for grunts, tackles, and punts, into a stage for grace, flexibility, and dancing required hours of hard work and dedication from each member.

left top: senior co-captain Isabella Montoya and Laila Thompson-Wainer stretch into a needle | left bottom: the cheer team runs through cheers and spacing one last time before the game | right top: junior cheerleader Maddy Gill smiles as she holds her pose, supported by her teammates | bottom: the M-A dance team slinks into position

Annabel Baxter, one of the dance team's senior co-captains said, “As captains, we are in charge of choreographing the majority of the dances. [...] It takes about an hour to two hours to create each piece.” Dance and cheer require complex choreography as well as intense rehearsals and practices to perfect the routines before the games. “It will take half a practice or a full practice to teach [the routine] to the girls, another day to get all of our formations set, and a third day, which we call our 'cleaning day', to get everything in shape and [make sure] we're all together when we dance,” Baxter added. Finishing touches were put on their routines hours before the Friday game, paying off as stunts and dances were executed again and again.

above: clip of dance team's half-time routine | bottom: clip of cheer team's half-time routine

Off the field, nestled in the stands, the pep band played energetically, an occasional trumpet or kazoo note cutting through the cries of the crowd. Rehearsals are during band class times and involve running the setlist once or twice. Band members also take time out of their busy daily schedules to practice the songs.

Kazoo-clutching junior, Claire Lange-McPherson embodied the spirit of the band. When asked about the role of the pep band, Lange-McPherson said, “People can't even hear us, but dammit, 'imma still play and kazoo my 'lil heart out.”

Junior Sarah Lindsey who now attends middle college, came back to play in pep band. Lindsey said, “I’m coming back to play because I really miss being a part of the band and being able to play music with a group of people I’ve come to know really well.” The pep band was an additional layer of energy and camaraderie during the game, as nearly every single member shouted the cheers alongside the spirit team.

Pep band members Claire Lange-McPherson (left) and Sarah Lindsey (right) proudly toot their kazoos

Back on the sidelines, injured and sidelined players clustered around their teammates and coaches, shouting support for their brothers on the field. When asked about the importance of the team to him, junior quarterback Jack Alexander responded, “the football team really means a lot to me. It's a brotherhood of a multitude of different [people], and it makes me feel like family. Just being out here under the lights is a very special feeling.”

Despite being out with an injured foot, Alexander attends practices and games to cheer on his fellow Bears, and can't wait to get back on the field.

top left: injured and sidelined team members chat before the game | top right: senior defensive end and long snapper Connor Gentile jokes with teammates and coach | bottom left: senior strong safety and wide receiver Malik Johnson encourages his teammates | bottom right: junior cornerback and wide receiver Treavon Norton adjusts his helmet

Third quarter, third down, the Bears and opposing team Palma were tied 13-13.

Two members of the cheer team, junior Maddy Gill and senior Yajaira Elizondo suffered unfortunate accidents. As temperatures dropped, so did team and crowd morale. Down two injured cheerleaders, the spirit team, the sports leadership students, and the 12th Man Club did their best to pull out all the stops and hype up the crowd. Senior Diego Sabio stepped into the spotlight with improvised, but crowd-pleasing routines.

Senior Diego Sabio ascends to his rightful position as an unofficial honorary spirit team member.

The fourth quarter began to look up as the Bears closed the lead for a 20-20 tie. With stakes higher than ever and a legacy to protect, the Bears' sideline energy was more jittery than normal.

Senior offensive guard, defensive tackle, and center Kiu Teu watches the game with his teammates (photo credit: Heath Hooper)

The game itself was an emotional roller coaster for the players involved and the crowds watching in anticipation.

top: players anxiously watch the game from the sidelines | left: sophomore wide receiver and cornerback Troy Franklin kneels on the sidelines | right top: senior linebacker and runningback Daniel Heimuli caught in a moment of serious concentration (photo credit: Heath Hooper) | right bottom: senior safety Grant Henry receives mid-game medical attention

With a minute and a half remaining in the 4th quarter, junior wide receiver and free safety JD Carson fumbled a punt, giving Palma a chance to score. Fortunately, they did not and the game went into overtime with a tie 20-20.

Despite our hopefulness and excitement, the Palma defense stopped the Bears at the 1-yard line, at 4th down and goal, resulting in a 20-26 Palma victory. However, this defeat does not spell the end of the Menlo-Atherton bears, whose quest for revenge has just been intensified. In the words of junior linebacker and running back Dominic Paga, “[Palma] wanted it more. It's a wakeup call and a chance to get better for Colorado and the rest of the season.”

With good sportsmanship, the Bears congratulate the Palma team after a disappointing loss.

The team congratulated their opponents with a sullen politeness, already formulating plans for their future plays. The Bears' next game will be in two weeks, an away game against Valor Christian. The Menlo-Atherton football team reflects the resiliency and diversity of the whole student body in one neat, spandex-clad and heavily-padded package.

Created By
Toni Shindler-Ruberg
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