FAIRMONT, W.Va. — Their voices can sound angelic, though you certainly wouldn’t think it listening to them from the sidelines of East-West Stadium.
Nearly 15 percent of the Fairmont Senior madrigal club is made of students who will also have an important place to be this Friday at Wheeling Island Stadium. Three of those seven students will be in uniform Friday night as Fairmont Senior looks to end a title drought that spans to the 1940s (and even further, if you want to get technical about it).
They won’t be thinking about it Friday, but in just a week’s time senior power running back Rhett Heston, offensive linemen and linebacker Magnus Sheets, and junior reserve linemen Nick Jenab will all be suiting up again — but this time for the school madrigal annual Yule Tide Feast.
“A lot of places, not just around our state but around the country, would look at the success of the football team and would put pressure on the students that are part of that team to make that their number one priority,” said Greg Devito, the Choir Director for Fairmont Senior High School. “At Fairmont Senior, their number one priority is to be involved in as many things as they want to be.”
It requires a give-and-take so the students, who practice daily on the football field, can also take part in the 48-person musical ensemble.
“Coach (Nic) Bartic was actually in madrigals,” Heston told WAJR. “We’ve had a couple coaches — Coach (Paul) Kettering too. He’s an offensive coach. He was in madrigals too. Coach Bartic understands what it is and how it works so that helps with planning and everything.”
That give-and-take becomes even more important during post-season play, when good practices become crucial for a Polar Bears squad looking to win their first championship in the modern era despite this being their third trip to Wheeling in as many seasons. But DeVito said the coaching staff has been fair about giving the madrigal crew the time they need to practice — you know, before they go to that other practice.
“On Mondays and Wednesdays when I’ve got practice directly after school, the football players come to me first,” Devito said. “And they spend anywhere from 20 minutes to half an hour with the group, and then they head to East-West Stadium for practice.”
If you’re not familiar with madrigal groups, they sing English and Italian chamber music of the Renaissance period. Though, as Devito pointed out, his group will also incorporate some modern music so that it’s not entirely “dead white guy” music. They’re often clad in garb that wouldn’t be out-of-the-ordinary at a renaissance fair.
“Showing up a little late to practice, we kind of get some stuff,” Heston said. “And one time I showed up in my madrigals outfit because we just took pictures, and I didn’t have time to change.”
Rhett got what he described as some ‘light-hearted ribbing’ for that, but said it was all in good fun.
It’s a partnership that works well — and includes members of a number of other sports teams from across the boy’s and girl’s athletic spectrum. DeVito said he has no issue with any of his 48 students sharing time. After all, he wants the school’s football team to finally clinch that elusive state title — and it’s much easier to share when he has confidence in the dedication of his students.
“They’re willing to work on listening to their music and practice and stuff outside of my classroom,” he said.
In fact, that support is well-documented. “Mr. Devito” has had to cancel a major madrigal event in the past — the Yule Tide Feast, a 90-minute concert that usually brings in around 200 people — due to some unexpected events in Heston’s sophomore year.
Those unexpected events? Fairmont Senior’s first trip to the state title in decades.
“Mr. Devito cancelled the Friday night showing so that fans from Fairmont Senior and people could go and support our football team,” Heston said. “He was 100 percent on board with cancelling it because he wanted people to be in the stands and cheering the football team on.”
Since then, the Yule Tide Feast has been scheduled after the Super Six comes to an end — a safe bet for DeVito since the Fairmont Senior football team could probably start calling Wheeling their second home.
“We haven’t won a state title in forever,” Heston said. “2016, my sophomore year was the first year we made it there, was 20 years since the last time we were there. It’s just a great accomplishment being in the championship game since you have many other teams and high school kids who will never be able to play in a state title game in their lives.”
Of course, simply ‘being in the championship game’ isn’t what Heston wants. Knocking off defending champ Bluefield, who foiled Fairmont Senior’s championship bid one year ago, is the goal.
“Hopefully, we’ll come out with Fairmont Senior’s first championship in almost a hundred years,” he said.
Though he’s a fan of the team, DeVito said he won’t be in attendance for Friday night’s tilt with Bluefield. He won’t even watch (much to the chagrin of the reporter suggesting he watch on the MetroNews channel).
“Every time I show up or watch, they don’t do that well,” DeVito said. “I’m going to predict, because I won’t be there or won’t be watching on TV, that they’re going to win this year.”
He laughed and added: “I seem to be the jinx.”
Heston said he wasn’t upset, because he knew he’d hear from DeVito no matter the outcome of Friday’s title game.
“He felt like he was a bad luck charm,” Heston said. “So he said he was not going to do anything until Saturday morning and he was going to tell me ‘congratulations’ or ‘good game’ depending on what the outcome is.”
Fairmont Senior and Bluefield kick at 7:05 p.m. Friday night. Pre-game coverage begins at 6:45 p.m. on the MetroNews Channel and on stations across the state.