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Issue Date: September 2013

Why We Love Football: Friday Night Lights

by Chuck Bowen

Here is what football means in Chardon.

It means fans setting up to tailgate Friday afternoon before the stadium gates even open.

It means 6-year-old boys — future Hilltoppers — training to impress high school players.

It means a woman walking into a coffee shop and plunking down $3,000 to pay for a team dinner and jerseys when she doesn't even have a son on the squad.

It means bringing joy to a community that has been wracked with a terrible evil.

The Chardon High School Hilltoppers are as close a thing as Ohio has to the somewhat fictional Dillon Panthers. They're a powerhouse school with a following that rivals many college- and pro-level teams.

But more importantly, the team brings a foundation, tradition and sense of normalcy to Chardon.

"The team creates an energy," says Corinna Connick, who heads up Chardon Football Moms. "When you go to the game, there are people who have season tickets and certain seats, and these people are in their 70s and 80s, and they take this very seriously."

Connick's oldest son, John, played all four years and is coming back to coach this fall. Her two younger sons, Joe and Mike, still play both sides of the ball for coach Mitch Hewitt.

"Football is already defining their future," Connick says of her sons. "They want to do it for Chardon. Tradition, they say, never graduates, and that's been true for all my three boys."

She joined the Football Moms when John was a freshman. The group has gone from making team dinners to coordinating fundraising events and ordering the team's jerseys. Connick's husband, Tom, is the vice president of the Gridiron Club, an independent group that started three years ago to raise money exclusively for the football program.

"There's a relationship with coaches, players and youth that goes beyond the field," Connick says. "It evolves and you don't realize it's happening. All of a sudden, it's just such a part of your life." 

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