MILLVILLE - Conversations in many of the booths at Jim's Lunch on Thursday included the following question: "Goin' to the game?"
A friend asked that very question of city resident Iain Griffiths before Griffiths could even sit down at the Main Street eatery's counter.
"I'm going," Griffiths said. "It's been a long time since the football team played for a championship. It's a big thing. It brings some pride to Millville."
For many Holly City residents, the thought of not going to watch the Millville High School Thunderbolts football team play for the South Jersey Group IV championship today is unthinkable.
The local school district will bus residents to the game against Pennsauken High School, which is set to start at 7 p.m. at Rowan University in Glassboro, Gloucester County.
Dale Wettstein sells season tickets to Millville High School's regular season football games at Steelman Photographics, his photography and frame store on High Street. Wettstein said people want to know if he's selling tickets in advance of the game.
"We tried to get them, but there were no advance tickets," he said.
The football team's 11-0 record has given residents of this economically struggling city something around which to rally.
A message board outside the American Legion post on Buck Street reads "GO THUNDERBOLTS." There's a "GO BOLTS" sign hanging from the front porch of a house at Second and Pine streets, and another at a gas station at Second and Main streets. Wettstein's business has a big orange and blue "M" in the front window.
When Cheryl Hyson-Goodwin and her two daughters, all Millville High School graduates, decorated the front porch of their Cedar Street home last week for the holidays, they included an "M" made of blue tinsel wrapped in orange and blue lights.
"This is big," said Hyson-Goodwin, who was a sophomore at Millville High School in 1975, the last time the football team won a South Jersey title. "We can look at those kids and feel proud of what they've done."
But if there's one place in the city where orange-and-blue mania has reached a crescendo, it's Millville High School.
Students at the senior high school made buttons Thursday with slogans that included "Go Bolts." Other students waved orange-and-blue rally towels as they left school.
The rally towels - referred to by some students Thursday as "terrible T-Bolt towels" - were a hard-to-get item: Principal Kathy Procopio said the school sold out of the first 300 towels in a day and had to order 300 more.
"All day, people are calling," she said. "Kids. Teachers. We all need rally towels."
The football team will get a sendoff today that includes a parade through the senior high school involving the team, band, and cheerleaders. Students can cheer on the team as it marches through the halls.
Junior Jessica Pettit plays in the marching band. She said she's looking forward to the parade through the school.
"I don't think it's been done before," she said.
Another junior, Meagan McDermott, said support for the football team is contagious.
"It's just so cool that the school, the whole town, is involved and behind the football team," she said.
"It's brought us together," said junior Patti Conlow. "It gives us all something to be happy about."
It also may have prompted something unthinkable: A Vineland resident who will root for Millville.
Millville and Vineland high schools have a football rivalry that is more than 100 years old. The annual Thanksgiving football game is the most anticipated game of each team's season. Millville won 34-0 this year.
"They clobbered us," said Vineland resident Dottie Robinson, who was window-shopping Thursday on High Street. "But you have to admire what they've done. I hope they win."
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