BY PAUL LEIGHTON
---- — BEVERLY — It might not be exactly like the scene in “Hoosiers” when a caravan of cars rolls out of a small Indiana town to watch their team play in the big game.
But with thousands of fans making plans to head to Foxborough tomorrow to watch the Beverly High football team play in the Super Bowl, it might be close.
Nine or 10 buses full of players, cheerleaders, band members and fans are scheduled to depart from the high school parking lot for Gillette Stadium, where the undefeated Panthers will face Natick for the Division 2A championship at 3:30 p.m.
With a 12-0 record, Beverly already has the most wins of any team since the program started in 1891. Tomorrow’s game has become such a community event that the Greater Beverly YMCA decided to postpone youth basketball games scheduled for tomorrow so that the 400 players and their families can attend the Super Bowl.
“Our thought is that because the ‘Y’ is so big in the community, it was important to be able to support the Beverly High football team,” YMCA sports director Casey Sudak said. “The kids really look up to these guys. To be able to go down to Gillette and see people they know play on that field is a huge opportunity.”
Beverly High athletic director James Coffey said he is expecting about 3,000 Beverly fans to make it to the game, despite the fact that they’re facing a long drive, cold weather, and the option of staying home and watching the game on TV.
In the parlance of football, the Beverly fans are said to “travel well,” meaning they generate unusually large crowds for away games. Panthers fans say they had a larger crowd than Burlington did for Tuesday night’s playoff game, even though Burlington was the home team.
Even those who didn’t go to the game were paying attention. At Shaw’s supermarket in North Beverly, workers gathered around the radio listening to the game.
Two years ago, when Beverly made its last Super Bowl appearance, people crowded into the bar at the Italian Community Center to watch the game on TV.
“Honestly, it was about as loud as when the Patriots are on,” ICC bartender Steve Mounsey recalled. “It seems like all the locals come out.”
For the players’ parents, the trip to the Super Bowl is the capstone to a “fantastic” year, said Mercene Perry, the mother of senior lineman Brian Perry.
“Every five minutes, we’re getting emails from each other (making arrangements for the game),” she said. “It’s the greatest group of kids of all time.”
Parents and boosters have planned a pasta party for the team after practice tonight, a lunch at the high school before leaving for the game tomorrow and a pizza party back at the high school after the game.
When the team buses return to Beverly after the game, they will be met at the Route 128 exit by Beverly police and given an escort through town.
For some families, the tradition of Beverly High football has spanned decades. Mike Dooling, a senior lineman, is the fourth generation of his family to play for the Panthers.
In anticipation of the big game, the Dooling family has decorated its home with orange lights and large foam Panther paws on the front windows.
“We’re all just going kind of crazy,” said Janice Dooling, Mike’s mother. “All of the families over the last 10 years of watching these boys have really bonded. There are 26 seniors on this team, and we’ve all become a big family, truly.”
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or email@example.com.