It’s not quite the same as watching FDR flick the switch from the Resolute desk to turn on the lights at Cincinnati’s Crosley Field for baseball’s first night game in 1935.
It’s also not as stunning as seeing Wrigley Field host a game at night for the first time in 1988.
Still, watching the portable light standards — one positioned at opposite 40-yard lines on both sides of the field — chug to life and cast hard shadows across the lumpy grass at the Christian Brothers Athletic Complex on Tuesday night was a sight to behold. Home to the St. Michael’s football team, the field will be the site of this weekend’s Class 3A state semifinal between the host Horsemen and visiting, undefeated Raton.
St. Michael’s is one of the few high schools to play on a field without lights. Installing them, said Horsemen head coach Joey Fernandez, would cost nearly $300,000.
Until that day arrives, the loss of extra daylight from the time change in early November means two things: The loss of the school’s sports PE class that allows the football team to begin practice at 2:30 p.m., and just a one-hour window to conduct workouts before the sun fades around 5 p.m.
On Tuesday, it was business as usual after the coaching staff rolled the light standards out and cranked the gas generators to ignite four stadium lights propped about 15 feet off the ground.
To the west was a spectacular sunset of orange, red and purple. Underfoot was the halogen glow of green and yellow grass illuminated in two arching light patches extending away from each sideline.
“I didn’t even notice any of that,” said St. Michael’s senior Devin Flores, wiping his brow as he looked in the direction of one of the light standards. “It’s pretty weird out here like this but, you know, we’ve had them for a few years so we’re getting kind of used to it.”
While the tradition of using portable lights dates to before the pandemic, Fernandez said the school began renting the lights after the team lost the right to practice a mile down the road at Santa Fe High. The only other option was Fort Marcy park across town.
If there’s anything good of it, he said, it means it’s November and the Horsemen are still alive in the playoffs. They’re in the state semifinals for the first time since 2016.
As interesting as it is to look at, it doesn’t take long to realize how hard it is to actually see the ball once it leaves the quarterback’s hands. Flores should know. As the team’s top receiver, he has the challenge of tracking the pigskin once it practically transforms into a crescent moon flying right at him.
“We do drop some of them, yeah, but I think coach kind of cuts us a break,” he said.
“Nope,” Fernandez said. “Drops mean pushups. Running. It is kind of tough to see, but I think it actually makes the focus a little better, and hopefully it works out once we get out there and play.”
Quarterback Zach Martinez agreed, although he admits it’s basically like playing football in a dimly lit closet. The hard shadows turn teammates into silhouettes, and the limited lighting means there’s only about 25 to 30 yards of field that are actually usable.
“It changes the way we practice, but at least we’re still out here practicing, so that’s good,” he said. “It looks weird, but once you get going you don’t really pay attention to it anymore.”
Regardless of who the Horsemen might play in the championship (assuming they get that far), they’ll do so on the road. They owe Robertson a game, meaning it would be either Nov. 26 or 27 in Las Vegas. They’ve never played Socorro this late in the postseason and, by virtue of the New Mexico Activities Association’s bylaws, would cede homefield advantage to the higher seed. Socorro is No. 2; the Horsemen are No. 4.