FLORENCE, S.C. – This much is known: Wilson High School will host its first on-campus football game at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
Not at Memorial Stadium.
But on the Tigers’ actual campus at 1411 E. Old Marion Highway in Florence.
What is unknown? Pretty much everything outside the chalked-in lines.
All Wilson can do is prepare the best it can.
There is no precedent for this – for Wilson, South Florence and West Florence, anyway. Ever since it was announced in August each of the three Florence One high schools would host one on-campus game this season, excitement has spread from the administrators to the students and faculty and even to fan bases and beyond.
The preparation has been a team effort with not only first-year Tigers athletic director Derrick McQueen and the district administration, but also with the athletic directors from South Florence and West Florence (Bob Wilson and Greg Johnson, respectively).
Another Florence One on-campus game is Oct. 4 when South Florence hosts St. James, and this season’s final one is Oct. 18 when West Florence hosts Socastee.
While it does give Wilson the distinction of being the first one of the three to host an on-campus game, there are two sides to that coin.
First, the good: Wilson gets to experience what it’s like to host an on-campus game first. This is history, and everyone on campus – and even its alumni base – is excited. And the football team has already changed the site of its pregame meal from its normal setting of on campus to a local church.
“We want to give the fans and our community something to be proud of,” McQueen said. “This is the first home game that the district has allowed the high schools to host on campus. We want to start it out on a high note, so it’s important to get it right.”
Then, there is the challenging side of it.
“It’s never been done so it’s exciting,” McQueen said. “You just don’t know what the unknown is.”
Therein is Wilson’s task: To prepare for the unknown without any other nearby school having done something like this before.
One challenge is figuring a capacity for this one-night field. As of Wednesday, that was – well, unknown.
“I’m not going to say how many people we can actually hold,” McQueen said. “We’ll have the correct people here to make that call. We’ll have representation from the district along myself and (Wilson Principal Eric Robinson). So I would think that we would be able to make a good decision as to ‘OK, we don’t need to let any more people in,’ or whatever. We don’t know what that number is going to be yet, at this point.”
McQueen was asked if he worried about the field reaching capacity and then there being a long line of people waiting to get in.
“There can always be a concern that not everybody will get in,” McQueen said. “That could definitely happen. And again, we’re going to have security to the max to make sure we’re doing everything on the safe side. We want to make sure we keep everyone safe. People want to come to the game and enjoy the game, and we want them to do that. But we’ve got to make sure we’re safe, as well.
“We don’t want people to be on top of people and make it very uncomfortable and things like that,” he added. “We want to be sure we’re watching our numbers as much as possible and would love to say if we got around 2,000 people, that would be more than enough.”
McQueen thinks the plans are solid enough to handle whatever might or might not happen.
“We’ve had a number of meetings and we are in a good situation for the most part,” McQueen said. “We’ve got a good plan going on, we just need to execute the plan. I think executing the plan should put us in a good situation.
“Again, it might not be perfect, everyone might not have a seat, but when you go to the stadium not everybody has a seat,” he added. “Most of the kids, 95 to 98 percent of them, stand for most of the games.”
And, of course, there is the question of how much extra money is spent by the school(s) and district for their on-campus games.
Since Wilson’s is the first, this question was posed to McQueen.
“I have no idea,” he said. “That would be something we would need to look at at the end of the week. As we see a need to do things, we’re doing those things. And then obviously we’ll sit down with (Robinson) and he’ll be involved with that, as well as the district office. And so we’ll share that with (F1S superintendent Richard O’Malley).
“And after South Florence and West Florence do theirs, we can look at some things, and we’ll see,” he added. “Just because we do some things and spend some money in some areas, that doesn’t mean we’ll spend money on that next year. I would think a true test or true feel on whether we over-budgeted or how much extra money we had to spend, we’d have to wait until after Friday to determine that.”
But managing this type of project isn’t new to McQueen, who worked for more than 10 years for Sonoco.
“I’ve dealt with large sums of money and gotten it wrong some and gotten it right a lot,” McQueen said.
But behind all this is a push to the future, hoping to one day land on-campus stadiums for each of the three F1S schools.
Whatever happens next, McQueen is simply proud the three high schools can give the community a glimpse.
“It’s a historic moment for the district,” he said. “It’s a historic moment for Wilson High School. We’re doing some things that most people wouldn’t have imagined us doing. But because of the support we’re received from (O’Malley) and the district for them being open-minded enough for this to happen is amazing.
“Let’s do it and see what happens.”