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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS

The New Lights Are On, and Panthers Are Home

Football: Franklin emerges from dark ages and will play first night game on campus.

September 18, 1998|GARY KLEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

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 Poly for home games that could be played at night.

That will change tonight 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. 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.

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."

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