GOOSE CREEK — The Gators are ready for their close-up.
The grass at Charles B. Gibson Stadium has been dyed an even green. Ninety-thousand watts of temporary lighting have been trucked in. The press box windows are freshly washed, and the flag pole near the stadium’s Gator statue finally has been painted, a shiny silver. Even the goal posts have been scrubbed a bright white, with new orange flags atop the uprights.
The reason for the makeover — ESPN is coming to town.
More specifically, ESPNU — an off-shoot of the all-sports cable TV behemoth — will broadcast today’s 6 p.m. football game between visiting Cane Bay and Goose Creek High School to some 75 million homes across the nation.
As you might guess, a nationally televised game is a big deal in this town of 36,000, home to the 7-0 Gators, ranked No. 15 in the nation by USA Today.
“Everyone is really pumped up about it,” said the Gators’ senior kicker, Masamitsu Ishibashi. “Everyone in school is excited about it. They want to come out to the game and see us perform and win.”
There’s sure to be a standing-room only crowd at Gibson Stadium, which seats about 5,200. But that’s become standard in recent years, as the Gators won the Division II-AAAA state title last year and have become a South Carolina powerhouse under coach Chuck Reedy.
The Gators’ success and string of high-profile recruits — receiver Tramel Terry is committed to Georgia, and defensive linemen Gerald Turner to South Carolina and Mike Myers to East Carolina — caught the eye of ESPNU, which will televise 27 high school games this season.
“A lot of times, we’re looking at the recruiting angle,” said Kerry Callahan, the producer of today’s broadcast. “If there are one or several college prospects on the field, that’s a plus. Sometimes it’s a big rivalry or a team that’s done well over the years.”
The process of televising today’s game began about a month ago, when Goose Creek coach Chuck Reedy received a 100-question survey from ESPNU. He turned it over to equipment manager and right-hand man David Burke.
“They wanted to know everything,” Burke said. “From catering services, to power lines and the lights, the wattage and candle power, the number of bathrooms. I had to take 100 photographs of the entire area and send them to ESPN. Their main concern was getting their truck in here, so I had to measure everything to make sure the truck could get in.”
When Berkeley County school district officials learned of ESPNU’s interest, they wanted to make sure the high school and Gibson Stadium put on a good show.
“It showcases Goose Creek High School, Berkeley County and the Lowcountry as a whole,” Reedy said. “It gives us a chance to show the kind of football we play down here. It gives us a chance to put our best foot forward and make a good impression for the school as a whole.”
The chief problem turned out to be lighting, and ESPNU had a 90,000-watt rack trucked in by Musco, an Iowa-based company. The network also brought in AT&T to install five new telephone lines and two internet connections for the press box.
ESPNU will use eight cameras to televise the game, with a crew of 32 on hand to work the broadcast, including play-by-play man Adam Amin and analyst Tom Luginbill. Most of the crew’s prep work takes place today; Callahan said they can set up for a game in about eight hours.
Despite all the hoopla, the Gators are playing it cool.
“It’s a dream come true to play on national TV in front of the whole country,” said junior quarterback Dantez Bennamon. “But I think once the game starts, it will be a normal game. A lot of people come to our games already.”
Of course, there will be two teams on the field. Cane Bay brings a 5-2 record into the game, with a chance to make an impression of its own.
“Any time you can get exposure for your school, it’s great, especially being a relatively new school,” said coach Russell Zehr. “It’d be kind of nice if ESPNU was there to watch us and not Goose Creek.
“I don’t think our kids will be distracted a whole lot by the TV deal. How we match up with Goose Creek, we’ll have to wait and see.”
Tonight, the whole country will have a chance to see.