Community spirit comes alive in support of Arroyo Grande High football team

The kickoff is set for 7:30 tonight at Doug Hitchen Stadium, but here’s some advice: Get there early.

The gates at Arroyo Grande High open at 5 p.m., and thousands of blue-and-gold bedecked fans are expected to grab seats for the much-anticipated CIF-Southern Section Western Division Championship against Culver City.

The game, which could be the football team’s first division title in more than a decade, has been anticipated by many in Arroyo Grande since last year’s defeat by Junipero Serra High School.

Arroyo Grande High was embroiled in plans and preparations this week to host the Centaurs and cheer the Eagles to what they hope is the Arroyo Grande team’s fifth division title and its first since 1998.

The Eagles won division championships in 1987, 1994 and 1997.

By Thursday morning, about 1,000 tickets for the game had already been sold, said Shannon Hurtado, Arroyo Grande High’s Associated Student Body director.

“Kids have been buying tickets all week long,” Hurtado said, “which is unlike students who usually wait until the last minute. They’re being told they need to get there soon or they won’t have a seat.”

Estimates for attendance at tonight’s game ranged from 4,000 to 5,000 people. Extra bleachers have been brought in to allow an additional 500 people to squeeze into seats.

“We feel like we’ve prepared as best we can,” said Arroyo Grande High Athletic Director Dwight MacDonald.

Members of the Arroyo Grande High School Eagle Boosters have ramped up their efforts to make sure they have plenty of tri-tip, nachos, hot chocolate and other goodies for the fans.

“The crowds are going to be really big Friday. It’s a little daunting,” said Boosters President Piper Adelman, whose son, Henry, is a linebacker and running back. “We want to make sure that everyone has something nice and warm to drink.”

Student preparations were under way on campus, too. Some ASB students made posters, others sold blue and gold rally towels, and members of the “Blue Zoo” spirit club worked on a special video to remind the student body of school cheers.

“We’re working on an arsenal of cheers for tomorrow,” Hurtado said. “A lot (of students) are excited and proud that we can host such a huge event for our community.”

Many community members — some alumni themselves — are ready too.

“It’s like static in the air,” Adelman said of the community vibe. “It’s crackling with excitement.”

Tonight’s game is especially meaningful to Michael Hensley, a 1981 graduate whose son, Steven, is an outside linebacker.

Michael Hensley and Bruce VanderVeen played football together and have attended games since they graduated from the high school. Both helped get the additional bleachers to the stadium this week. VanderVeen’s son, Brent, is the team’s quarterback.

“We both played on that same field 31 years ago, and now our sons are playing together,” Michael Hensley said. “This is a very exciting time in our lives and in our boys’ lives.”

Reach Cynthia Lambert at 781-7929. Stay updated by following @SouthCountyBeat on Twitter.