Novi bands together to host Lions practice

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Novi — When Brian Gordon got the phone call near the end of last school year, he couldn't contain his excitement.

The Lions wanted to use the Novi High School facility for one of their training camp practices, so Gordon, the athletic director, would have some long hours of preparation ahead during the summer.

That hard work is coming to fruition as the Lions prepare to hold Wednesday's practice at the high school. They distributed 10,000 tickets for the event, a tally much higher than Gordon and his staff have hosted in the facility, mostly for Michigan High School Athletic Association events.

"This is huge; this is bigger than anything we've done in the past. A few years back, we had a (high school) playoff game where we had five or six thousand people," Gordon said. "Last year we hosted 19 MHSAA tournament events in all different sports, so we're accustomed to it."

Even with that experience, Gordon marveled Tuesday morning as workers painted the NFL hash marks on Novi's field, which was converted to turf last year. The track around the field is being replaced — a process that was halted due to the Lions practice — and the installation will be completed next week.

The preparation for the Lions practice includes coordination from the Novi police department and the department of parks and recreation, in addition to hordes of volunteers. But it's all hands on deck for the big event.

Novi High band members practice ahead of the Lions' visit Wednesday.

For Gordon, that means mobilizing more than just the two-person athletic staff of himself and assistant Barb McDougall.

"This has been a team effort. With an organization like the Lions, they have people who do all these individual things," Gordon said. "We're a school district. We are a department of two in athletics. We have 1,500 athletes, 140 coaches on staff and Barb and me."

"For them, this is a very small piece for them of their schedule. For us, this is huge. We've had a lot of people who wouldn't normally be involved in something like this but have stepped up and helped up."

Early Tuesday, the band went through rehearsals on the practice field and worked on formations and songs for Wednesday. Along with the band, the cheer team and pom-pom teams also will have a chance to perform in front of the biggest crowds of their high school careers.

"It's our first time performing for a group that big, but we're excited and nervous. We're practicing a couple hours a day," junior Madison Ampunan said. "It's a lot of butterflies."

In addition to the performances, parking will be one of the biggest logistical hurdles. But the Novi police put hours of planning into working out a plan, including using the 1,400 parking spots at the high school and adjacent civic center and working out a shuttle system with buses from Novi Schools bringing fans from the Suburban Showcase — which has an additional 5,000 parking spots — about a mile and a half away.

The biggest opportunity, though, is for the students and community to come together, with the football team getting a pep talk from Lions coach Jim Caldwell and the community getting to experience Lions football up close and personal.

Last year, the Lions had a practice at Wayne State University, which is a bigger venue, but Gordon is confident that Novi can pull off an event of that magnitude as well. It's much like the feeling he got at the very beginning with the initial phone call.

"I said, 'Wow, what an opportunity — we would love to have you. I look at it as an opportunity for us to showcase our facility and show what we're about here in Novi," Gordon said.

While the final touches and walk-throughs are completed on Wednesday morning — Gordon wasn't scheduled to report back from summer vacation until Thursday — he's looking to help the city and the school district pull off one of their most successful events in memory.

"This is a community event with Novi Schools and Novi athletics. Our goal is when people come here, we want them to leave with a good experience," Gordon said. "We want people to walk away with a smile and say that Novi does it right."