Franklin High's football team has been lighting up Northern Conference opponents for years with a high-powered passing offense and formidable defense that annually ranks among the best in the City Section.
But much of the community that surrounds the 82-year-old campus in Highland Park has never seen the Panthers play. For years, a lack of stadium lights sent Franklin on the road to schools such as North Hollywood and Sun Valley Poly for home games that could be played at night.
That will change Friday when Franklin turns on its new $175,000 stadium lights and plays host to Grant in the school's first night home game.
"It's about time we had the home-field advantage," Franklin Coach Armando Gonzalez said. "We've been a great team on the road. Now we have to learn how to play at home and appreciate it and enjoy it.
"The kids are excited because they get a chance to showcase themselves at their school in front of their families, friends and the community. Playing during the daytime, or playing home games at night at another school just doesn't compare. You don't have the same electricity in the air."
Friday night football, a deep-rooted tradition in most parts of the United States, remains a part-time avocation for many of the City Section's 49 schools. Like Franklin, Verdugo Hills has installed lights and is expected to play its first night home game next month. Woodland Hills El Camino Real received approval to install lights but is awaiting word on funding. That leaves 15 City Section schools with no campus lights or access to a neighboring facility such as San Pedro's Daniels Field or Dorsey's Jackie Robinson Stadium.
"Everybody would love to play all their [home] games at night, but that isn't something we spend any time worrying about," said Jefferson Coach Hank Johnson, whose team will play six home day games and three night games on the road.
Palos Verdes Peninsula and Beverly Hills are the only large-division Southern Section teams that play regular-season home games during the day.
John Barr, athletic director for fall and winter sports at Peninsula, said playing in the daytime is anything but a handicap.
"When another school that always plays at night comes up here at 3 in the afternoon, that gives us a distinct advantage," Barr said.
Indeed. Last year, Peninsula won the Division II title.
"There have been efforts in the community to put lights on the field, but they have not been successful because of input from other parts of the community that don't want them," Barr said. "We have never led the fight [to get lights], and it's not something that we have as an objective."
Franklin Principal Sheridan Liechty said she wanted to install lights at the school from the time she arrived on campus seven years ago.
"This school is the hub of the community," Liechty said. "And our parents want a place for their kids to be in their own backyard on Friday nights."
The problem, of course, was money.
Last year, Liechty, Gonzalez and Myra Fullerton, Franklin's athletic administrator, met with Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Hernandez to discuss the issue.
"The issue of lights and Franklin first came to my attention in 1967-70 when I was a teammate of Armando's at Franklin," Hernandez said.
After meeting with the Franklin contingent, Hernandez submitted the project in a proposal for a city grant.
Once Franklin received the grant, it was important to expedite the process of installation, Liechty said.
"We had heard tales of things like this taking six or seven years to complete, and we didn't want to be in that situation," Liechty said. "The district's staff, the councilman's staff and the city really worked in concert to see that Franklin got lights."
Liechty said Franklin's stadium, which seats about 3,000, will also be made available to other schools such as Eagle Rock and Marshall, and local Pop Warner and soccer organizations are also eager to use the facility.
"We're anticipating good revenue from this--from concessions as well as revenue from folks renting the facility," Liechty said. "There's also the safety benefit. These lights illuminate the community."
Hernandez said he did hear objections to the project from residents who lived in houses facing the field.
"We had to assure them that we would put a system in place to lessen the impact," Hernandez said. "To me, schools are centers of communities. A lot of our meetings with community people are at the school. The overall public benefit of the project outweighs many of the concerns."
Franklin was scheduled to open its season at home last week, but last-minute work on the lights caused the game to be moved to Huntington Park.
On Friday, a new era of Franklin football begins. The lights will come on, the band will be wearing tuxedos and a fireworks show will be part of the festivities.
"Our kids are really excited," Gonzalez said. "This is going to be a big night for our team, a big night for Franklin and a big night for the community.
"It's going to be great."