The potato harvest is a rite of mid-autumn in Aroostook County, but it can play havoc on some high school sports teams in the region.
Take Easton Junior-Senior High School, one of a diminishing number of schools in the County that doesn't have a lighted soccer field.
In order to hold practices after the work day is complete during the harvest break or at other times late in the season, the Bears often must travel to lighted fields at Central Aroostook High School in Mars Hill or Northern Maine Community College in Presque Isle — or take an even more unique path to coping with the shorter days and fading light of the season.
"Sometimes we have inside practices in the gym where you can only do so much," said Easton senior Sydney Trask, a four-year member of Easton's girls soccer team and president of the school's Varsity Club. "One of the dads also has brought some generators to the field and hooked up some lights so we could practice on part of the field after the girls get out of work."
Now students at the school are working to provide a more conventional source of lighting for the field — albeit in an unconventional way — and they need the public's help. Easton, one of the smallest public high schools in the state with an enrollment of 66 students in grades 9-12 as of April 1, 2010, is among more than 1,130 schools nationwide participating in the Pepsi Refresh Project, in which grant money is awarded to various applicants for programs designed to have a positive impact on their communities.
Easton students received permission from the local school board and selectmen and subsequently made a video application for a $50,000 Pepsi Refresh grant to purchase and install lights at the playing field near the elementary school where the girls' soccer team practices and plays its home games.
Ten winners in the $50,000 category will be selected by a public vote through the Pepsi Refresh Internet site, Facebook and by text messaging, and while the voting concludes at the end of January, the Easton lighting project was ranked 21st as of Tuesday morning.
A person can vote once each day, and students at Easton have been doing their part, voting each morning during home room period and encouraging people from rival schools to vote on their behalf by making announcements about the contest during halftime of the Bears' home basketball games this winter.
The effort already has been featured on local television, but organizers now hope a groundswell of voter support from throughout Eastern Maine and beyond will push the Easton project into the top 10 so lights can be installed in time for the beginning of the 2011 soccer season.
"We really think we're going to need a big push statewide to get into the top 10 by the end of January," said Ellen Trask, Sydney's mother and a co-adviser to the Easton Varsity Club along with Darren West.
Having lights at one of the two soccer fields used by the school would solve another issue facing the Easton teams and their fans. With no lighted fields, the Bears' boys and girls soccer teams must play at the same time after school in order to complete the games before dark. That means the players from one team can't cheer at the other team's games and parents often have to choose to watch one of their children play on one field while another child is playing on the other field at the same time.
"It's a really small school," said Sydney Trask, "so there are a lot of siblings and other family members playing on the teams and parents have to choose which game to go to. If we have lights, we wouldn't have to play the games at the same time."
And while Sydney Trask will have graduated by the time the lights are installed if the Easton application receives enough votes to finish in the top 10, she sees a bigger picture in the undertaking.
"I love my school, I love my community," Trask said. "I want this to be something to be used for years and years."
For more information about the Easton project and how to vote, access the project's website at http://www.eastonschooldistrict.org/refresh.htm