Friday night family

INDIANAPOLIS — It’s an odd feeling for a mother to watch her little boy become a young man. There are firsts of everything – steps, scraps to knees and days of school. The years are dotted with sports practices, music lessons and homework help.

But nothing feels quite like Friday night; watching from the stands as that little boy on the brink of manhood steps out on the football field. The moms of New Palestine High School football players know that feeling well, they say – the excitement, the tension and the all-consuming pride.

Friday at Lucas Oil Stadium – WHEN THE DRAGONS XXXXX – was no different. With tears in the eyes, voices rasping from shouts of encouragement, these mothers watched their sons – all 60 of them – take the field just as they have all season long. The Dragons CLINCHED THEIR SECOND CONSECUTIVE STATE TITLE AFTER GOING XX-XX IN THE REGULAR SEASON. They returned to Lucas Oil Stadium XXXXX COLOR HERE XXXXX.

Through it all, the player’s moms say they’ve bonded just like their boys and formed a new family, a much bigger and louder one than they ever expected. They share meals together, partake in traditions and buy into superstitions.

Each boy who takes the field feels like their own, and they holler with the same enthusiasm and happiness for whoever made the play.

“You’re not there cheering on your own child; you’re cheering along all of them,” said Lisa Neligh, whose son, quarterback Alex Neligh, makes plenty of plays worth whooping over. “And it doesn’t matter who does what, who scores, who makes the tackle – the entire crowd just erupts.”

When Heather White’s family moved into the New Palestine school district yearly this year, she never thought her son, Jordan Workman, would fit in so quickly. Jordan joined the team for his senior year but found himself immediately considered a valuable member.

That was different, his mother said; he had come from a school where the coaches focused on the key players or those destined for college careers on the football field.

“It’s not about a couple of players here; it’s about the whole groups. It’s very different. It’s very family-oriented,” she said.

In a way, these ladies are the team behind the team.

It’s not unusual to have crowds of 20 or 30 boys at their house for dinner on any given night, and they can’t begin to guess much money they’ve spent on pizza over the years. They come together to make about 150 turkey or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the players for every away game.

They don’t have to, but that’s what mothers do.

For Neligh, nerves about an upcoming game tend to set in Thursday night as she gears up to watch her sons, Alex, the team’s senior quarterback, and Zach, a freshman ready to fill those cleats next year. She’s at the stadium an hour before the games, ready to watch her boys exchange passes on the sidelines during warm-ups.

She tells them the same, simple thing every night before they take the field: play hard and play smart.

Up in the stands, Neligh sits in the same spot next to the same people; swapping seats could jinx the team, she noted. She and some of the other moms have taken to writing their names on bleachers to reserve their special spots.

When they visit other teams, they try to keep the same seating arrangements, and it was no exception at Lucas Oil Stadium Friday night. XX ADD COLOR HERE XX.

That dedication to red and black goes back years, said Darcie Brickens.

For some, their sons have been playing together since first grade in the New Palestine Cadet Football League; others joined at middle school age. Even then, she could tell there was something different about this group of boys, she said; from the start, they just seemed like champions.

And from what their parents can recall, the 2015 senior class has only lost a total of three games in their football careers.

Earning a position in the state finals once was awesome; to do it twice was unthinkable, Kate Judy said. The team ended 2014 with the gratification of a state title and came back in the fall with a hunger that only a championship can satisfy.

To watch all the hard work and dedication take form on such a grand stage – not once, but twice – was rewarding for everyone. The smiles on their sons’ faces that day were MATCHED ONLY BY THE ONES THAT APPEARED FRIDAY.

As the team fought XXXX, some mothers watched their sons play football for the last time. Every touch and every tackle was bittersweet; and just like each time Friday night before, nothing felt quite like it.


Caitlin VanOverberghe is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3237 or