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'Be the Light': The inspirational reason high schools nationwide are burning stadium lights during the coronavirus pandemic

Photo: Quinn Lemmers for Yahoo Lifestyle/Getty Images

With the coronavirus crisis shutting down schools nationwide, most U.S. children won’t be returning to class this academic year. But to assure students won’t feel forgotten, schools across the country are turning on sports stadium lights to illuminate empty campuses, embracing what has become known as the #BeTheLight movement.

A March 24 tweet from Dumas High School in Texas set things off. “To all the student of Dumas ISD: Tonight and every weekday night from 8 to 9 we are going to burn our stadium lights for you ... as a symbol of hope and an assurance that you are on our hearts and minds,” wrote principal Brett Beesley, challenging fellow state schools, with the hashtag #BeTheLight.

Beesley tells Yahoo Lifestyle that he was driving past school during spring break, a few days before the March 30 shutdown. “My heart was hurting for our kids, and I wanted to show that we love them,” he says. “I thought, ‘It would be cool to light up the stadium.’”

Head football coach Aaron Dunham got “fired up” about the idea, Beesley says, driving to the stadium that night. Later, Beesley tweeted a photo of the lit arena.

Irving Independent School District in Texas answered, “Challenge accepted! We got this!” tweeting a photo of its stadium, as did Eustace ISD.

“The [school closure] hit me hard because our athletes worked so hard,” Monty Leaf, head football coach of Eustace High School, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “We don’t want them to feel as though time was wasted.”

Each night, Leaf drives to the stadium and turns on the lights, where he sits in silence for an hour. “It’s the most peaceful hour of my day,” he says. “No one can dictate the darkness.”

The lights at Fichtner Field in Hermantown, MN will light up each Monday at 8:20 p.m. to honor students staying home during the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo: Wade Petrich/Hermantown Star)

In Minnesota, more than 200 schools are using the hashtag #BeTheLightMN, according to activities director Paul Riess of Cloquet Public Schools. Some go on at 8:20 p.m. (translating to 2020 in military time) on certain nights, others chose Friday to symbolize canceled football games. And some time spans represent individual school district numbers.

Riess, who played the school song over the stadium loud speakers on Monday night, tells Yahoo Lifestyle, “We’re also asking neighbors to turn on their porch lights each week.”

Sixteen miles away, Fichtner Field lit up for Hermantown Community Schools. “These kids had the rug pulled out from under them,” district activities director Beth Clark tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “We’re thinking about them.” Superintendent Kerry Juntunen hopes to continue the event throughout the summer.

When Adam Bright of the Colorado High School Association learned of the trending hashtag, he emailed five local schools. “It’s been pretty awesome to watch,” he tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “The kids have connections with their coaches and we wanted a little normalcy.”

Every Friday night at 8 p.m., for the remainder of the school year, the stadium at Fort Lupton High School will light up for 30 minutes, athletic director Jim Roedel tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “We’ll also do this inside the gymnasium and the drama center, where a play was scheduled.”

And on Friday, the snow-covered field at Vista Ridge High School in Colorado Springs was illuminated, thanks to athletic director Brandon Monson, who established a random schedule to deter spectators. “This isn’t just for athletes,” he tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “It’s symbolic of all students.”