Community, students rally around undefeated Hempfield Area as Friday football game nears

One of the hottest tickets in Westmoreland County this week is for a seat in Spartan Stadium, where Hempfield Area’s 4-0 football team will host 3-1 Penn-Trafford on Friday night.

On Wednesday morning, a long line of students at Hempfield Area Senior High waited to purchase tickets from Karen Sternick, a family and consumer science teacher.

“We’re counting the tickets we sell by Friday and the tickets Penn-Trafford is selling to determine how many we sell at game time,” Sternick said. “There might be a limited number.”

Ninth-grader Andrew Burgess bought three student tickets and seven adult tickets – enough for himself, his younger brother, his parents and family friends.

“I think they thought the tickets were going to sell out,” he said. “A lot of people I’ve talked to are excited about the game. I think it’s warranted. This is going to be the biggest game of the year. “

There’s more than one reason why excitement is building in the Hempfield community for Friday’s game. It’s the first time since 1971 the Spartans have had a string of so many wins to start a season. They achieved a 6-0 start that year before falling to Kiski Area, 13-8.

Hempfield Area will be facing the defending WPIAL Class 5A champion from a neighboring district.


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“I feel like this stadium is going to be packed,” senior quarterback Jake Phillips said. “We can’t wait. We’ve been waiting for this one all year long.

“My parents have talked to plenty of family saying they are going to be at the game. I’m hearing (buzz about the game) all over the place. Everybody wants to come to the game. “

Hempfield Area has seen a turnaround this season, with a move from Class 6A to Class 5A. Last year, it finished with a 2-8 record, 0-7 against opponents in its class.

“We haven’t been a winner in the previous years,” senior running back Gino Caesar said. “Now we’re starting to change that around.”

“I don’t think our (4-0) start is by coincidence at all,” senior lineman Will Nelson said. “We came into the offseason knowing this is the result we were expecting, and we had to do what we had to do to get there.

“It’s awesome to see the community rally around what we are doing here.”

Of the 6,500 seats available for Friday’s game, more than 400 are expected to be occupied by Hempfield Area students, according to senior Max White, one of the leaders of the student section in the stands.

“The pride here at Hempfield has really gone up,” he said. “The student section from last year to this year has seen a huge difference.”

Last week, the district and the Hempfield Area football parents group partnered to provide a bus so students could attend an away game against Shaler.

“That was a non-section game an hour away, but we just wanted to show our support for the team,” White said.

The shift to 5A means Hempfield Area is playing against more local schools this year, many of them in Westmoreland County. That’s been good for attendance, noted Nick Caesar, president of the football parents.

For the team’s Sept. 9 game at Greater Latrobe, “The stands were full on both sides,” he said. “The level of excitement has been electric. It’s a very good feeling seeing the success for all the players. “

The community has responded to the string of wins the Spartans have racked up this season.

“It’s an opportunity for the community to rally around the team,” Hempfield Area Athletic Director Brandon Rapp said. “There’s a lot of excitement around the program. It’s long overdue. “

Local insurance agent and Hempfield Area alumnus Matt Knizner plans to be at Friday’s game, cheering on the Spartans – including his nephew, senior defensive back Ryan Steffey. A past Spartans quarterback, Knizner went on to play for Penn State, where he was part of the 1986 national championship team.

“It’s nice to see Hempfield have this momentum,” Knizner said. “Hempfield always had tough, good football players, but we always seemed to not have the depth. It’s nice now to see that Hempfield is able to compete. They’re showing up to win. “

The heightened school spirit among fans has brought added energy to the Hempfield Area cheerleaders and band members performing at games.

“I think our school is united,” said senior Reagan Shick, one of the captains of the cheerleading squad. “This has been a great start, and it just keeps building.

“Everybody is in a good mood and has a good attitude. That makes us want to do well on Friday on the sideline, leading the crowd and getting everybody involved during the game. “

“Rather than just focusing on their halftime show, they’re much more lively in the stands,” director Andy Giles said of the band members. “The kids want to play more based on the crowd’s reactions and what they’re seeing on the field.”

“We’ve got a band dance for whatever they play, and they also feed off of us,” said Lisa Blahovec, a math teacher at the senior high and one of two cheerleading coaches. “You’ll hear the Spartan fight song a lot.”

Friday’s game will bring together different threads in the career of Mike Brown, the Spartans’ second-year head coach. His day job di lui is teaching elementary students in the Penn-Trafford district, where he graduated in 2009.

Looking forward to the game, he said, “This is what high school football should be all about, a packed stadium and playing under the lights on Friday night.”

Jeff Himler is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jeff by email at jhimler@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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