Early birds

Most of East’s tailgating crowd didn’t get to Gate Ten Events Center until around 5 p.m. Friday, but Greg and Amy Craft were among the first to arrive at 2 p.m.

Amy Craft grilled wings for herself, husband Greg and friend Chad Schutte. They brought a space heater, but because of mild temperatures they didn’t needed it.

“It’s not been too bad today,” Amy Craft said.

Going bananas

Columbus East senior Thomas Myers began wearing a banana outfit at Halloween and decided to wear it again to that week’s football game against Bedford North Lawrence.

Myers hasn’t stopped. He has worn the banana outfit to every game since.

“Ever since then, I kept wearing it because we kept winning,” Myers said. “Some of the players have been saying it’s a good luck charm. Every time I wear it, we win.”

Hitting record

Columbus East usually has a video recorder atop the press box and in the end zone, and Friday was no different.

Frank Anderson, Tony Patterson and Dennis Brasher were positioned in the press box. Their camera sends a signal to the end zone cameras, where Mark Dougherty and manager Steven Dornquast send a signal to the sidelines for assistant coaches to view the videos.

Painted orange

Columbus East linebacker Charlie Burton’s little brother Braxton got his face on the Lucas Oil Stadium jumbo screen in last year’s state title game by wearing a spiked orange wig to support the Olympians.

This year, Braxton passed the wig to their uncle, Eric Burton, who traveled all the way from Campbellsburg, Kentucky, to see Charlie play in his final high school game.

“My brother was like, ‘Hey do you want to put the wig on from last year?’ I’m like, ‘Hey, let’s give it a shot, why not?’” Eric said. “I just went all out with the facemask. He’s going to know we’re here.”

Eric covered his face with orange and brown paint while his wife Julie twisted orange strands in her hair for support. They missed the 2016 Class 5A state final, and they made sure they didn’t miss it the second time around.

“It’s absolutely amazing. I’m so proud of him more than anything else,” Eric said. “I’m proud of the whole team, but you’ve gotta be proud of your nephew.”

Back to watch

Former Columbus East wide receiver Cam Wilson was suited up in his orange Olympians jersey and football pads ready to take the field in last year’s Class 5A state championship game against Westfield just a year ago.

This year, Wilson sat in the stands of Lucas Oil stadium wearing his Illinois State fleece and a pair of jeans as a spectator. The Redbirds freshman football player said the first thing he noticed while in the stands is how serious and important the game is for the Olympians’ fan base.

“I really miss it, to be honest,” Cam said. “Coming out here to watch, it’s shocking to see all of these people showing up. Being in the stands in a whole different perspective. Out on the field you just hear a bunch of noise, but coming out here and watching it is a whole other perspective.”

Cheering the Olympians

The Columbus East players are always being cheered on at their home field by the Olympians cheerleaders, but cheering in a professional stadium presents different challenges for the cheerleaders.

Seniors Ashley Gilpin, Kaylin Miller and Mallory Mays remember what it was like cheering at Lucas Oil Stadium in last year’s state final, and they said there is much more responsibility on them in a bigger stadium. There is a smaller section to cheer for in a high school stadium than there is in one that houses the Indianapolis Colts.

“It’s like you’re surrounded with everybody and their support, and it’s overwhelming and really rewarding,” Mays said.

The upside of cheering in a bigger stadium is being able to spread out to reach more people.

“We’re trying to branch out and get everybody involved who usually wouldn’t,” Gilpin said. “The crowd definitely gets into this game way more than they would in just a home game because we’re at the finals. It’s much bigger and it’s much louder.”

Ted Schultz and Frank Bonner sports@therepublic.com

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Ted Schultz is sports editor for The Republic. He can be reached at tschultz@therepublic.com or 812-379-5628.