It's time to do something about the late finishes at Quincy High School football games.
The Blue Devils' season opener against Belleville West on Friday ended at approximately 11:15 p.m. By the time the Maroons left the field, showered and changed, it was at least midnight before they pulled out of the parking lot of Flinn Stadium.
They had pizza delivered to the stadium and ate dinner on the bus, saving them an hour or more after the game of making a stop at a fast-food restaurant. The drive on a bus from Quincy takes at least 2 1/2 hours, so the Maroons aren't getting home until 2:30 or 3 in the morning.
Belleville West was going to have a late night anyway, but 3 o'clock in the morning? That's not right.
(That sound you hear is applause from the football teams in the Western Big Six Conference, who hate getting home in the wee hours after their biennial trip to Quincy.)
Most high school games across the state start at 7 p.m. or 7:30 p.m. on Fridays and are typically finished no later than 10 p.m. The schedule on the QHS football website listed a 7:30 p.m. kickoff, but the sophomore game that started at 5 p.m. ran long, so the game didn't start until approximately 8:15 p.m. when Adonte Crider returned the opening kickoff 91 yards for a touchdown. Fans with young children were seen leaving Friday night's game well before the second half started (which was at around 9:40 p.m.)
The 11:15 p.m. finish was remarkably late, but late finishes have become a habit for QHS games. Most Blue Devils games for several years have typically finished around 10:30 p.m. or later.
So what can be done to help the games end at a decent hour?
The simple solution would be to start the sophomore game earlier to help assure a 7 p.m. or 7:30 p.m. kickoff. However, one of the problems facing QHS athletic director Scott Douglas is the difficulty of finding officials who can be at a game that starts earlier than 5 p.m. (In fact, finding any officials in Quincy is a chore, regardless of the start time.)
Plus, are you cheating the parents who work an 8-to-5 job and must miss the first quarter of a game that starts at 4 p.m. or 4:30 p.m.?
Not much fat can be trimmed from the pregame activities. Varsity teams are asked to get in their stretching during the sophomore game, and their on-field warmup time is only 20 minutes. The marching band then gets 10 minutes on the field, and taking away from the band's time would take away from the pageantry that is part of a Friday night football game.
Once the band leaves the field, it takes about five minutes for the teams to return to the field, for the captains to meet and the coin to be tossed, and for the teams to lineup for the kickoff.
What about moving the sophomore game to another field? That isn't a convenient solution for QHS officials and parents who want to be at the varsity game as well, and it also splits up visiting team's personnel.
What about making sure the sophomore game ends by a predetermined time? Or using a running clock during those games? Well, preliminary games in Quincy already are being trimmed from 12-minute quarters to 10-minute quarters, and halftime is shortened as well. Surely there are other alternatives to solving this problem than taking away playing time from the sophomores.
Unless someone can offer another idea, the only solution seems to be for the sophomore game to be played on a different day.
That practice is one that QHS already has in place with Alton. After the Blue Devils travel to Alton for a 7 p.m. kickoff this Friday, the Redbirds' sophomore team will return the favor and play at 11 a.m. Saturday in Quincy.
Most local teams don't play preliminary games on Friday nights. Instead, they are either played on Saturday mornings or Monday nights.
However, the Western Big Six Conference by-laws call for the preliminary football games to start at 5 p.m. on Fridays.
Moving the preliminary games to Saturday would seem to make sense, but if the games had to be on Monday, that's not unreasonable. WB6 soccer teams already travel on Tuesday nights, and WB6 girls basketball teams travel on Thursday nights. The "it's a school night" argument doesn't wash.
High school football teams, at both the varsity and sophomore levels, are throwing the ball more these days. That means games have more clock stoppages thanks to incomplete passes and players stepping out of bounds. The Belleville West-QHS varsity game still lasted three hours last Friday, and the sophomore game was nearly 2:45.
The idea of trying to play a full preliminary game at 5 p.m. and get a varsity game started by 7:30 p.m. is antiquated. It's also unfair to the fans who see the 7:30 kickoffs on the schedule but are forced to wait -- and then stay late. (Plus it adds a few gray hairs to sports writers who rush get the story about the local high school game in the Saturday edition before the presses roll.)
What needs to happen for that change to be made? That seemingly simple question can only be answered by the conference's athletic directors and principals.
Until then, Blue Devils fans might consider taking naps on Friday afternoons so they can stay up past their bedtime.