SPARTA, NJ – Sparta Little League Football held the third annual Friday Night Lights event on August 29. It was an evening of youth athletics and community.
The program began, according to Josh Hertzberg, in 2012 when a number of the sixth and seventh grade Sparta football players attended the Rutgers University football game in which Eric LeGrand was severely injured. Affected by that experience and learning of the various fundraising events being held to support LeGrand, the young players asked to have an event in Sparta.
The first year money was raised to help the paralyzed Scarlet Knight with medical expenses. LeGrand even attended the event.
Hertzberg explained the evening was originally called Friday Night Lights for Life. It is not intended as a fundraiser. If there are any funds left over, the money will then combined with the funds raised at the annual Milk Bowl, held later in the fall. This money goes to support a Sparta family in need.
“It is the kick-off event for the season. With this night we want to honor a certain group that we feel deserves it. Last year it was the Veterans, this year the Fire Department,” said Hertzberg. The fire chief Craig Wilson was on hand to receive a plaque from Mayor Molly Whilesmith.
Roman Oben, former NFL player and Super Bowl Champion, was the featured speaker once again this year. Oben spoke of this childhood and how football helped to give him a positive activity in an otherwise not so supportive community.
Oben also related an anecdote about his childhood encounter with the local firefighters. He spoke about having left a pot on the stove unattended, to walk a friend home. When he returned he found the fire department on the way to his apartment. They took care of the fire and Oben has had a strong appreciation for the work fire fighters do and the role they play in the community ever since.
“We are fortunate that, as busy as he is, Roman comes each year to speak to the kids,” said Hertzberg, President of Sparta Spartans Youth Football and Cheer.
There were approximately 300 children participating this year. Three levels of Sparta football teams played against Lenape’s teams. The fifth and sixth graders played Lenape’s sixth grade. The other two games were played by seventh and eighth grade children. The cheer leaders were on the field as well, in front of a crowd of nearly 1000 people.
The new Sparta Fire Department Ladder truck was there, ladder awash in blue lights for everyone to see.
“As much as it is about the game, we try to teach the kids about community. That’s part of what makes this event so special; it came from the kids and they created it. We want them to understand Sparta is a special place ,” said Hertzberg.