Columbus East football fans were behind the Olympian all the way Saturday.
Figuratively, that was certainly true with all of the orange shirts and the enthusiastic signs, “Go O’s,” “East Pride!”
And literally, ditto, as the fan caravan followed the Columbus East team bus all the way to Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis for a championship game against the Westfield Shamrocks.
More than 60 vehicles formed the caravan, filled with 150 enthusiastic fans. Orange shirts, orange signs. School colors, tried and true.
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Karen Riley, the mother of Olympian player Luke Riley, was among the fans flocking to the high school for the season-finale sendoff.
For Riley, wearing an orange 97 football jersey, her sophomore son’s number, the fun was just getting started. Upon their arrival in downtown Indianapolis, she planned to tailgate outside the stadium with eight others in her group.
She called this an exciting season for the Olympians, and was looking forward to the game regardless of the outcome.
Riley was joined by Stacey Foster, whose son Trevor, another sophomore, is also on the team.
Foster got even more festive with her choice of attire — including an orange party wig and glasses.
Her son’s suggestion, or at least that was her story.
“We are crazy football moms,” Foster said. “Once I put it on, I’m not taking it off until I get home.”
Others used their sign-making skills to say what was on their mind or in their heart.
Heather Haymaker’s messages to the Olympians, including son Jaedin Miller, a junior: “Refuse to Lose,” “In It 2 Win It” and “We Bleed Orange.”
Miller got a good look at the signs with a group of East players, with the messages of support surrounding them.
Haymaker, who was heading to the game with a group of about 20 people, said she was proud of the work the team has put in this season.
And when she was so nervous that she couldn’t sleep the previous night, she made the most of her time with the home-made signs.
Fellow parent Renee Rodgers shared the advice she gave freshman son Ethan before the game.
“Play hard and everything else will fall into place,” she said.
Rodgers said she was pleased with her son’s development this season.
“It’s been exciting to see him grow and take on new challenges,” she said.
Lisa McCarter, president of the Columbus East Quarterback Club, was blown away by the number of supporters at the caravan.
“Columbus is a special town,” the head of the boosters group said.
The players were keenly aware of it, too.
“We’ve been told all season we’re not going to make it anywhere, but all these people believed in us,” junior football player Ric Wooten said, after East opened the season 1-1. “It’s exhilarating and super exciting to see all these people out here.”
But the caravan was just the start of the fun, with tailgating to follow ahead of the game.
The most eager of East tailgaters were a party of seven — first to arrive for the Olympian Tailgate Party at the Gate Ten Event Center across the street from Lucas Oil Stadium.
That group included adults Amy and Gene Craft and Julie Speice, plus four children: Gregory Craft, 8; Alana Craft, 5; Ethan Speice, 11; and Tyler Settle, 14.
They threw around a football, biding their time until the rest of the East fans arrived to join them at the tailgate party. Of course, tailgating was just the appetizer for the main course – with fans hoping to be served up a third Columbus East state football championship.