Friday Night Lights to Honor Vets on Sept. 11

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Those famed Friday night lights will be shining for more than just high school football players this week.

    For the first time, the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks falls on a Friday -- a night owned by prep football around the country. Some schools are going all out to remember those who died in the attacks and served in the two wars that have followed.

    Veterans, for instance, will get free admission to see the Blaine Bengals play Minnesota prep rival Centennial. Before kickoff, color guards from all four branches of the military will march onto the field, where a gigantic American flag will be unfolded at the 50-yard line. The school band, accompanied by fireworks, will play each branch's song with a silent tribute to those who have died in combat coming next.

    A moment later, four T-6 Thunder airplanes will perform a flyover, followed by a handshake by the two teams.

    "I think it's going to bring some tears to eyes," said Blaine coach Shannon Gerrety. "If we can help people remember and honor the people that are there, we'll do it."

    In Ohio, New Albany High School will hold a moment of silence before its game against DeSales. Groveport Madison, just outside of Columbus, is painting a red, white and blue ribbon on both sides of the field.

    In Florida, ROTC cadets will hand out mini flags to fans who attend the game between Fort Pierce Central and Melbourne in St. Lucie County. The flag will be dropped to half staff during a pregame remembrance of those who have died, then raised again once the game begins.

    In Texas, the Killeen School District, which is near the Army's Fort Hood, will host a morning event in the main football stadium. It will include military and civilian dignitaries in a ceremony similar to one it has done every year since 2001.

    Defensive assistant coach Steve Guider organized the ceremonies in Blaine, outside Minneapolis.

    "I've always been pretty patriotic," he said. He's wanted to have a military appreciation night for one game and the anniversary "just added some motivation to make things bigger and better and get it done this year."

    For him and the Bengals, the chance to capitalize on the drawing power of high school football to honor veterans and military families could not be passed up.

    Families like the Juneaus.

    Sue Juneau's son, Tom, played football at Blaine earlier this decade and was recently honorably discharged from the Army after deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan. Her cousin, Bill Juneau, was a civilian security contractor who was killed when a roadside bomb struck the Humvee he was driving in Iraq in 2007.

    And her youngest son, Stephen, is a junior safety on the team and will be singing "America The Beautiful" with the choir before the game.

    "Any respect that we can continue to rally, especially once you've experienced the tragedy we have," said Sue, placing her fingers to her neck to try and stop herself from choking up, "you just realize how many times in history that it's been repeated and how many times people haven't had the support that we've had and how many people are just left alone to deal with their sadness."

    That won't be the case on Friday night, when thousands will pack the football stadium in Blaine, waving miniature American flags while they cheer for their heroes -- and the Bengal football team.

    "I think it's great," Tom Juneau said over dinner at his parents' home. "The amount of support we receive now makes our job over there so much easier. I never could imagine how it was in Vietnam where they didn't quite have the patriotism that we have now."

    Thick-skinned and a little bit on the cocky side, Tom Juneau said he won't be shedding any tears during the ceremony.

    Then a soft voice chimes in from across the dinner table.

    "I'll be the emotional one," says Bridget Sura, the twin sister of Bill Juneau.

    Wearing a T-shirt with Bill's picture on it and his dog tags around her neck, Sura cried as she thought about what it will mean to watch such a display put on for her brother, who was a football fanatic before he died while helping train Iraqi police.

    "I think it's going to be overwhelming," she said. "But I hope that the message comes across as clear as its meant to come across, so that they know, whether they're there or back home or not here anymore, that what they've done or what they're still doing is more than we could ever thank them for."