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For the first time in three years, Brooklyn Center football is playing under the lights in 2021

A lighting system failure had forced Brooklyn Center High School to play afternoon games since 2018. But not anymore, thanks in part to the Thielen Foundation.

BROOKLYN CENTER, Minn. — Omar Jackson vividly remembers his freshman year at Brooklyn Center High School, during the fall of 2018, when the varsity football team's lighting system failed in the second quarter of the home opener. 

"The lights broke out," Jackson said. "I was kind of mad. I'm not going to lie. I was really mad."

Absent lights for the next three years, Jackson and his Centaur teammates played afternoon home games in the daylight, sometimes scheduling kickoff around 3 or 4 p.m. 

It was a different vibe than "Friday Night Lights." 

"I didn't like it," Jackson said. "I used to have to get out of school early, missing out on certain things I had to do in classes."

That's not the case anymore for Jackson during his senior season. 

The Centaurs are playing under new LED lights this season, thanks in part to financial contributions from the Thielen Foundation. Minnesota Vikings receiver Adam Thielen and his wife, Caitlin, made a personal appearance at Brooklyn Center two weeks ago for the debut of the new lights, and this Friday night, Brooklyn Center played its second home game of the year against St. Croix Lutheran.

"It gives us more energy," Jackson said. "These are brighter than any other lights I've ever seen."

Activities Director Nate Gautsch, who played for Brooklyn Center in the 1990s, said he's glad this generation of Centaurs will be able to experience football under the lights.

"It's a feeling that's hard to explain," Gautsch said. "It's Friday Night Lights. It's real."

Gautsch said his relationship with the Thielen Foundation traces to a chance encounter with Executive Director Amy Sinclair. After Gautsch mentioned that Brooklyn Center's lighting system had failed at the start of the 2018 season, Sinclair took interest and brought the problem to Adam and Caitlin Thielen.

"She got back to me and said, 'We want to help,'" Gautsch said. "'We want to replace the lights for you.'"

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It was a godsend for a small school district like Brooklyn Center, which would have likely needed to wait many more years to replace the broken lights – the cost of these new lights adds up to more than $250,000. 

When the Thielens presented the new lights earlier this month at Brooklyn Center's home opener, the players went wild.

"It was surreal. I had to see him up close, and I was like, 'yo, that's Adam Thielen!'" senior Warren Kinney said. "It means a lot. I've never seen so many people at a game."

Darrell Young, the assistant head coach, said the Thielen appearance sent chills through his body. 

He knows how meaningful the lights are for the players and the surrounding community in Brooklyn Center.

"It's an experience they will never forget in their life," Young said. "It's amazing because this community deserves a lot. The kids in the community, and the families, they deserve something like this. They deserve something like what happens out in the suburbs, to come out and enjoy."