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The Roanoke Times (Virginia)

It's not uncommon for Stephen Magenbauer to get stopped in the street by a stranger to discuss football. He's been Salem High School's head football coach for a decade and is well aware of the high school football enthusiasm that exists in the city.

"We are fortunate to play football in a place where it is appreciated," he said.

This season, Salem athletic officials are trying to capitalize on the city's rabid fan base to help bring more money to the high school. They will be selling skybox seats at Salem Stadium.

They are typical in college stadiums, but skyboxes are a luxury known to few in the world of high school football. However, Salem Stadium already had the spaces. It had the boosters. So athletic officials thought, why not?

"On Fridays I would look up at those boxes and think, 'Wow, they are just sitting there,' " said Salem High School athletic director Chris King.

The stadium opened in 1985 and the skyboxes were built about 12 years ago to accompany the loads of media that came with the NCAA Division III football games and state championship games that are also played there. The stadium, though, is primarily for Salem High School football. During Spartans games the skyboxes sit empty and dark in a venue packed to the gills with fans.

Six boxes can hold eight people apiece and will be sold in packages for $1,500 for the season. Two boxes can hold four people and will be sold for $750. The price includes two parking passes per group and two Spartan athletic passes for other Salem sports. They are heated and come with padded chairs and easy access to restrooms.

The package is for five regular season home games and the option for any potential home playoff games. The money from the skyboxes will fund Salem football and the high school's 36 other sports.

"This is a way to help transportation costs," King said. Taking student athletes out of town for games is costly, especially as the school division has seen budget cuts. With the skyboxes, King saw an opportunity for revenue. While $1,500 may sound pricey to watch high school football games, King said Salem doesn't have your run-of-the-mill high school football culture.

"I honestly think we will have a waiting list," he said.

An average game draws 4,000 to 5,000 fans. This is for a school that is home to about 1,200 students. On any given Friday night about 20 percent of Salem will show up to a game. When archrival Northside High School visits on a clear night, Salem Stadium could see up to 10,000 fans - numbers that dwarf crowds at small colleges.

"It's part of the culture here," King said. "It's what they do on a Friday night."

King and other Salem officials were unaware of other schools in the area that had skyboxes. A call to the Virginia High School League was not returned on Friday.

Magenbauer said he tells the team the history of football in Salem going back to the early 1960s and the former Andrew Lewis High School teams. He often meets fans who have had children involved with the football team 15 or 20 years ago. Many of them still come to high school football games, some in the familiar Salem windbreakers, to cheer on the Spartans.

"They are still coming all these years later," he said. "That's what makes it special."

To Magenbauer, the skyboxes are just one more thing to offer the fans. This year's season kicks off Aug. 29 and King expects the skyboxes to be full. Season skybox packages will be available for purchase starting Aug. 4 by calling the high school. They will be given out on a first-come, first-served basis.

Staff writer Chad Parries contributed to this report.

July 27, 2014

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