Five times this season, Concord High’s football parents will arrive at school at 6 a.m. on a Saturday.
They will begin preparing breakfast, which will be served to the players at 7:30. Then the Raiders will start going through their pregame routine. At 10:30 a.m., they will play a football game.
George Kosanovich wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I’m not crazy about waiting to play,” said Kosanovich, Concord’s longtime head coach. “I’m ready to go. Two o’clock bothers me. That’s too long sitting around, waiting for the game.”
So the Raiders get on with it, along with several other high school football teams in New Castle County. St. Georges, Mount Pleasant, Brandywine, Archmere and Hodgson will kick off at least one home game at 10:30 a.m. this season. Charter of Wilmington, Conrad and Delcastle start most home games at 11 a.m. on Saturdays. And Christiana, Howard and Tatnall often kick off at noon.
It’s a tradition that dates back to the 1960s, when the University of Delaware was the unquestioned king of the state’s football universe. Most of New Castle County’s high school stadiums didn’t have lights, which forced teams to play on Saturdays instead of Friday nights. No one wanted to compete with the Blue Hens for fans, so kickoffs were moved up to 10:30 a.m.
The thinking was watch your local high school team in the morning, then enjoy the Delaware game in the afternoon. Lights were installed at Delaware Stadium in 2000, and the Hens rarely play an early afternoon game now. But at some upstate high schools, the 10:30 kickoff continues.
“We just kept it,” Kosanovich said. “I like it. I like to get out of bed at 5 o’clock, 5:30 in the morning.
“We have great parents who make our kids breakfast. They’re here at 6 o’clock and they make eggs, pancakes, juice and everything else for our kids. We feed them at 7:30 and play at 10:30. I love that.”
Not everybody loves it. Friday night football is a way of life below the C&D Canal, where almost every game kicks off at 7:30 p.m. When one of those teams has to roll out of bed for a 10:30 a.m. start, it’s quite a change.
“The movie is called ‘Friday Night Lights’ not Saturday morning,” Middletown coach Mark DelPercio said with a laugh. “We’re going to play the game if we’re told that’s what time we need to be there. But to me, there’s nothing exciting about a high school football game at 10:30 a.m.
“I think they should be banned in the state of Delaware. I don’t know why schools do it. I don’t understand the thought process behind it. I know that years ago the thought process was play on Saturday mornings at 10:30, go to the Delaware game afterward. … Obviously, we’ve gotten away from that now.”
Some of the state’s biggest games are played in the morning. St. Georges, ranked first in Division II, will play host to third-ranked Hodgson at 10:30 this Saturday. The Hawks, who have only been playing varsity football since 2008, got the idea for the early starts from their vo-tech rivals.
“We did it because Hodgson was doing it at 10:30, and I believe Delcastle was doing it at 10:30 so we just kept with what the district does,” St. Georges coach J.D. Maull said. “We started playing at 10:30 because of that.”
Most Hodgson home games start at 10:30, so the Silver Eagles won’t have to adjust this week. They already know how and when to get ready.
“It changes your preparation,” Hodgson coach Frank Moffett said. “If you’re playing at 10:30 Saturday morning, you want to make sure your players are doing the right things on Friday night. You’re in bed, you’re resting, you’re eating properly.
“The first thing we do, I like to get them fed in the morning. When we do that, at least I know what they’re eating and I know they are eating. Some of them don’t eat, probably because of butterflies and they’re jittery. But if we eat here I can tell them, ‘You’ve got to eat something.'”
Like Concord, Hodgson players have a team breakfast at 7:30. But for teams traveling a longer distance, the day starts even earlier. Middletown faced a 33-mile trip for its season opener at Concord on Sept. 7, and the wakeup calls came before dawn.
“My staff was there at 6 a.m., and we had the players in at 6:30,” DelPercio said. “The bus rolled out at about 8 o’clock.”
The Cavaliers adjusted well to the early start, as the two-time defending Division I state champions beat the Raiders 35-8. Salesianum also came out ready to play at Concord last Saturday, as the second-ranked Sals rolled to a 42-7 victory.
“I’d much rather play Friday night than play at 10:30 in the morning,” Sallies coach Bill DiNardo said. “But football is a four-quarter game, everything is the same. You’ve just got to go there with the attitude that we’re playing a football game and not worry about the time.”
The Sals are used to playing home games at Baynard Stadium on Friday or Saturday nights. But they tried to treat the Concord game as business as usual.
“We have the kids come in around 8. It’s like a school day,” DiNardo said. “So it’s not anything different than what they’re used to on a normal day. It’s just a football game that’s early in the morning, and that’s when they play. That’s their prerogative.”
Here to stay
Don’t expect those kickoff times to change anytime soon, especially at Concord.
“It’s an advantage for everybody,” Kosanovich said. “For Middletown to be here at 10:30, there’s no traffic coming north at 7 o’clock [in the morning]. How about going south at 5 o’clock on Friday night to go to Middletown? One time, it took us an hour and 40 minutes to go to Appo. That should be about a 40-minute trip.”
Maull had to get used to the idea of Saturday morning kickoffs. The St. Georges coach played his high school ball at Cape Henlopen, where every game started at 7:30 p.m. Friday. Now, he looks forward to hosting the southern teams at 10:30 a.m.
“Sometimes it’s an advantage, especially if you play downstate schools because they’re not used to getting up that early and traveling to play at 10:30,” Maull said. “For us, we believe it’s an advantage.”
Kosanovich would like to tee it up even earlier.
“I’d like to start at 9 myself, but we’ll wait until 10:30,” the Concord coach said with a laugh. “It’s not that we demand that. When we’ve played teams like Cape Henlopen up here, we’ve played at noon. I wouldn’t make them come here at 10:30, making a 2½-hour trip.
“But for Middletown? C’mon. They can get here on time. Like I said, we have more trouble getting to you than you have getting to us.”
DelPercio looked at the bright side after his Middletown team got up early and won at Concord.
“I told my kids on the way back, ‘The only advantage is, now you’ve got the rest of your Saturday ahead of you,'” he said.