Local district raising money for stadium lights to pass on Friday night football tradition

Bastrop County

McDADE, Texas (KXAN) — A small school district in northern Bastrop County wants its new six-man football team to experience true Texas high school football under Friday night lights, but before that can happen, the district needs to raise money to buy the lights.

“It’s part of the Texas experience,” said assistant football coach Jake Story.

McDade ISD’s team joined the University Interscholastic League (UIL) last year to compete with other 1A schools. Local businesses donated the turf, sprinkler system, scoreboard, and bleachers.

But because the field doesn’t have stadium lights, the Bulldogs’ home games happened either on Saturdays while the sun was up or on rented fields 20 miles away.

That’s not the Texas tradition Story wants to pass on to the team; he played ball for Dripping Springs ISD, graduating in 2005.

“We had a very good tradition of football, and it was cool to be a part of it. I want these kids to have that experience,” he said. “I don’t want them to have to rent a field from somebody else. I want them to have something of their own.”

The district is hoping to bring in some big corporate donations to fund the lighting system, but until that happens, McDade ISD is collecting money one donation at a time through a GoFundMe page. The goal is to raise $75,000.

With just nine weeks to go until the first games of the 2019-2020 season, the district doesn’t know whether the team will have the lights installed by the start of the school year.

The players, meanwhile, are pushing hard to be ready for the new season. A handful of players gathered at the school’s weight room Thursday to work out, a regular occurrence this summer.

Quarterback and rising senior Tristan Van Leer said he’d like to start the next home game by running out under Friday night lights.

“To see all the fans and the lights to be shining on you, it’s going to feel really great,” Van Leer said. “I think it’s going to make the fans more enthusiastic and make them want to come out more.”

Even during Saturday games, fans are turning out in droves. McDade, a town of fewer than 700 people a few miles southeast of Elgin, rallied around the team nearly eight decades after the original high school burned down in 1941.

The district rebuilt in 2016, started playing pickup football games, and graduated its first class in 79 years this spring.

Support in turning vacant space behind the school into a football field over the last few years showed the district and the team how much the community wanted it.

Rising sophomore Christian Johnson said he didn’t mind playing on Saturdays, but the feeling isn’t the same.

“Naturally it’s a little disappointing, but we just got the field, so we got enough,” Johnson said.

The McDade Bulldogs will keep pushing for more, though, to light up their field and give themselves a true home every Friday night.

“That’s everybody’s dream, I feel like,” Van Leer said. “I think it would be a really good thing for the community.”

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