High school football game offers lesson

Published 12:03 am Sunday, November 23, 2008

Friday night was the coldest weather my body had endured in quite some time.

Sitting on the frozen slabs of aluminum at Natchez High’s Stadium, didn’t seem so bad at first.

But then again, my part was relatively easy — just sit there and watch, clap and cheer occasionally and hope for the best.

Email newsletter signup

The hometown Bulldogs were facing the much-favored Oak Grove Warriors in the second round of the Class 5A playoffs.

Somewhere around halftime the temperatures dipped below freezing. Tiny ice crystals formed between the grooves on the bench in front of me, just as those tiny arctic grooves numbed the back of me.

I only know one of the players on the team, the son of a long-time coworker here at the office.

But for two and a half hours on Friday night, the Natchez High Bulldogs were my team, from the largest senior to the tiny underclassmen who paced the sidelines in hopes of getting some playing time.

I won’t attempt to go into the details of the game itself. I’ll leave that up to the sports folks who can spout off statistics.

But the game was interesting to me not just as a sport on the field, but also as a study of the community in the stands.

Friday’s game was the first high school football game I’d attended as a spectator in more years than I can remember — probably 15 or more. Working for years as a photographer meant Friday night was a “work night,” schlepping to as many as five games in one night.

Then as an editor, Friday night meant an all-hands-on-deck night in the newsroom. Again, a work night.

But this past Friday night, I was there just for the fun of it.

Honestly, losing the sensation in one’s backside, legs and toes isn’t what most sane people would consider “fun.” But it was just that.

Sitting with my wife and a coworker, we spotted a number of old friends and new friends among the crowd as the play continued on the field.

One of those old friends was Brenda Williams, a former principal from Natchez High School who now runs a flower shop.

Sitting near Brenda at Natchez High is a bit like sitting next to Elvis in a Memphis diner. Countless former students, former parents and educators stopped by to say hello to Brenda. And despite having retired from her life as a teacher and educator, Williams taught me a good lesson in the cold, open-air classroom Friday evening.

Don’t let personal comfort (or discomfort) prevent you from doing what’s right.

While Natchez was pretty much outmatched much of the first half, the Bulldogs remained in reasonable striking distance until Oak Grove scored its last touchdown.

No sooner than the NHS defense had left the field, scores of fans got to their feet and headed for the gate.

The message was clear: they weren’t going to win and it’s too cold to sit out here and watch them lose.

I’ll admit that a number of minutes later as the clock was ticking down we stood up to leave and said goodbye to Brenda Williams.

“I’m here until the whistle blows,” she said.

That’s when the lesson took hold. The game wasn’t about the fans; it was about the dozens of football players, cheerleaders and band members who had worked so hard to get there. We stayed until the clock hit zero and cheered the team as they left the field.

Lesson learned, Mrs. Williams. Thanks again.

Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or kevin.cooper@natchezdemocrat.com.