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Viking football Community Night continues growth

HIGH FIVE: Huntington North football head coach Rick Burnau congratulates his team after scoring a touchdown during Friday’s Community Night.

BY JACOB RUDE - sports@h-ponline.com

When Rick Burnau took over as head coach of the football program at Huntington North three years ago, one of his main goals was to get involved in the community, which included an annual open practice and community night leading up to the season.

Friday was an overwhelming sign of progress on that front as the football team, flanked by the Huntington North cheerleading and band programs, hosted its annual Community Night for hundreds of fans. Admission into the event was two non-perishable food items, which were donated to the Salvation Army.

“It was a great night,” Burnau said. “Obviously, we got in front of a big crowd. The kids got used to that which is what I wanted. And we had some jitters. You could see that and it’s a good thing to work through. It’s still our first week. It’s still practice.

“I’m glad to work with the Salvation Army and I hope they got everything they needed. But putting this together with (band director) Mr. (Michael) Petek and (the cheerleaders) and coming together as a group and just saying ‘Hey it’s not a division. We’re united as one.’ I think it was a good thing.”

For Burnau, seeing the community rally not only behind the program but behind the athletes themselves was as fulfilling as anything on the night.

“It’s great for the kids because I think it does show that these people want us to be successful at the game of football,” Burnau said. “Huntington, we get the stigma as a basketball town. It doesn’t matter. They want Huntington North to be successful. Everybody does. I’m excited for the kids. I’m excited for the fans and everybody involved.”

On the field, the Vikings conducted business as usual in many ways on the field, running through drills and scrimmages with a referee on hand. Friday marked the final practice of the first official week of practice for Huntington North this fall.

The night ended with the team joining the band and cheerleaders in the singing of the school fight song, something band director Michael Petek told those in attendance they hoped would become a tradition after each game during the season.

Off the field, Friday marked another effort for the Vikings to remain involved with the community. The team volunteered at the Boys & Girls Club throughout the summer and remain active in the community, giving the team more than just lessons on the field, according to Burnau.

“It’s a lesson for the kids,” he said. “It’s a lesson for the kids to give back when you can. (I tell them) you guys are high school athletes. Yeah, you’re 16, 17, 18 years old, but there are younger groups that are going to look up to you. And that is kind of what starts that culture of giving back and being a servant leader. If I taught these kids how to be good football players, I’m not doing my job.”