On a Friday night in late September, you could hear the announcer over the loud speaker from a mile away. It was time to head to the game.
When you arrived at H.A. Lynn, you knew you had to park blocks away. The sun was out, but setting. The colorful, crisp leaves and the brisk, chilly air filled the sky as you walked down the street to the stadium in your Newton Cardinal sweatshirt.
You’d walk in and were flooded with anticipation. The entrance was crowded, but then again, so were the walkways, the concession lines, and the stands — well, there wasn’t an empty seat in the house.
Prior to kickoff, the boys, in their white, red and black uniforms, with helmets on, looked ready and eager as they stretched in lines across 50 yards of green grass.
The crowd silenced itself right before standing and facing the flag as the band played the National Anthem.
Then it was time.
As kickoff approached, the players encouraged loudness from the home stands, and they got it. In the student section, we’d start off with a soft roar that would crescendo into one, enormously loud yell as we kicked the ball to the opponent.
The girls would scream and the guys would shout, and we’d hold onto each other as we jumped for joy, witnessing a wide receiver make a thrilling 20-yard catch and run down the sideline for another 20 yards before a desperate tackle.
The same thing would happen in the fourth quarter. Maybe we’d have the lead, but the opposing team was able to take the ball down to our 15-yard line. However, our guys would make an incredibly defensive stand in the red zone on third down, forcing opponents to a mere 3-point field goal. Field goals are game changers, but not when your team is up by 4 or more with time running out.
When we won, parents, students and fans alike would exit the stadium together, often times mixed, but always with the same glorious grin.
Looking back, I thought, this is as good as gets.
It could be the weather, but it’s probably the research I’ve been doing on John Jenkins that has me reminiscing about the triumphant days of past. They weren’t always wins — we lost heartbreakers too — but either way, we stuck together.
In today’s paper is the first part of a two-part feature about the former coach who took over after legendary Frank Gilson, and it was an honor to get to know Coach Jenkins again.
Throughout interviewing players, coaches, friends and family members of John’s, I was reminded of three things: family is the greatest gift we’re given, and that some people we meet are family we never had; being a good person is more important than winning; and how one thing, like football, can create a bond and pride throughout an entire community.
Looking back, it was as good as it gets.