It's always 'Senior Night' for Hamilton football - East Valley Tribune: News

It's always 'Senior Night' for Hamilton football

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Posted: Thursday, November 19, 2009 7:04 pm | Updated: 1:10 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

It's a fall Friday night in the retirement community of Sun Lakes. Some residents are playing bingo. Others have settled in for a quiet night in their homes. About 50 of the retirees, however, have something different in mind.

It's a fall Friday night in the retirement community of Sun Lakes.

Some residents are playing bingo. Others have settled in for a quiet night in their homes. About 50 of the retirees, however, have something different in mind.

They board a bus and take the 10-minute ride to Chandler Hamilton High School. White-haired Tom Apter is among them. So is his buddy, Robert Sjolin, and their wives.

As they reach Jerry Loper Field, the group heads to their seats, making sure to stay away from where the band will sit.

"They're too loud," Sjolin says.

Hamilton is about to play Phoenix North Canyon. The crowd stretches across three generations. There's the students, the players' parents, and the retirees from Sun Lakes who have adopted the Huskies.

"I used to go to all of our football games in our high school," Sjolin said. "It's just a lot of fun to come out."

The senior citizen brigade grew out of the thought of connecting the school with the growing community, Hamilton Principal Fred DePrez said. In fact, the school first bused in fans from the neighboring Cottonwood subdivision. Eventually, Sun Lakes joined in.

"We got word of it here and I love high school football," said Sun Lakes resident and Seattle native Bill Hoyt. "I said, 'Hey, folks, let's get on the bandwagon.' So I called the school and I said I think we have more people (interested) over here than they have in Cottonwood. Why don't you stop here first?'

"It's a great thing. We're an older community. It brings back memories of your youth."

Apter wouldn't want to be anywhere else. He knows the Huskies well - he's been to all of their home games. On this night, he's so plugged in to what Hamilton is doing that he might as well be wearing a headset.

"Travis (Dean) is going to find Steven Hanson for a touchdown now," Apter says, referring to the Huskies' quarterback-wide receiver combo.

Hamilton has the ball at midfield but, on cue, Dean drops back and fires a long pass for Hanson, who dives but can't quite catch it in the end zone.

Apter just shrugs.

He and his friends don't have any connection to Hamilton other than its proximity to their homes. In fact, they haven't walked the halls of a high school in five decades or more. And when they did go to high school, it might have been in the Midwest or some other far-flung town.

For John Pfeiffer, sitting in the stands brings back memories of his high school days in Chicago, where he won a city championship in baseball and competed in football and basketball.

"The people here treat us so well," Pfeiffer said. "One day a week they honor us. We get into the game, we love the team, and they can't do enough for us.

"It's nostalgic because I had to leave all of my grandkids, so they are taking the place of my grandkids," Pfeiffer added. "I would give anything to see my kids play in their games."

The generational gap still exists. Sjolin sometimes looks around in the stands, the people-watching as intriguing as the game itself.

"It's interesting to see all the kids and how they dress," Sjolin said. "It's almost more important for the girls in what they wear than how much they care about the game."

Once a year, DePrez said, the school holds an informal dinner for the Sun Lakes residents. Some 120 fans made it out earlier this season for the "tailgate" that included a hot dog dinner before the game. The school even made arrangements for a special charter to take the older fans to Glendale last season for the 5A-I state championship game at University of Phoenix Stadium.

"We love having them come out," DePrez said.

For some Sun Lakes residents, however, the game hits a little too close to home.

"I talked to a friend of mine and asked him if he was going to the game tonight," Hoyt said. "And he said, 'You know, I just can't do it anymore.'

"I said, 'Why not?' And he said, 'I had four daughters - all of them were cheerleaders in high school. Now I go to these games and I have tears in my eyes because I've lost that now. My daughters are gone and I'm 78 years old. I just can't handle it.' "

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