What Is A Town Without High School Football Like?
If you live in Wilson, Keiser, and Luxora, you know what the answer to that question is. One word: Rivercrest.
Though there is no football in your hometown, you go to Rivercrest on Friday night.
OK, fair enough. I’ve been told the football is mighty good at Rivercrest on Friday night. Best in the state of Arkansas…
Game over. Another win for the state champion Rivercrest Colts. Time to go.
You get back into your car, and drive back. Back to your hometown.
Back to Wilson.
Back to Keiser.
Back to Luxora.
You drive past the old stadiums in Wilson, in Keiser, in Luxora.
Driving past Graveyard Stadium, somehow, your car seems to slow down, almost as if some unseen power refuses to let you drive past.
So you stop the car, park, and walk out to the sidelines. In the dark, yes, in the dark, in the cold, in the middle of the night, there you are.
The alarm on your cell phone goes off. It’s midnight, and here you are, at Graveyard Stadium.
The air is crisp and fresh, like it always was, always is, and always will be.
It’s Panther air, left by the inspirations and expirations of hundreds, no, thousands, thousands of Luxora Panthers out on the field of battle at Graveyard Stadium.
Midnight at Graveyard Stadium. The memories are flowing thick, like water, of players and games played, of past moments of a town called Luxora coming together around its high school football team.
Drawing air deeply into your lungs, you turn to go.
Then it happens, and you can’t believe it.
The lights have come on, the whistle blows, and the crowd is cheering.
You turn quickly to see two football teams ready to meet on the field.
The first team on the field is the McCrory Jaguars, a powerhouse team from the 70’s and 80’s, coached by their legendary coach, Joe Hart, who is with his Jaguar team once again tonight.
On the other sideline you see the legendary Panther coach, Letroy Gathen, here tonight with another group of champions, each with a Panther’s heart and a Panther’s courage inside of them.
You remain motionless, filled with wonder, as you see Randy Porter, Marvellers Ruben, Jerry Harrell, Eddie George, Ricky Cannon, Oscar Reynolds and Thomas Baker, the seniors, leading the team onto the field.
Beside you a voice whispers, “It’s just another Friday night at Graveyard Stadium”.
Under your breath you say, “Yeah. Go Panthers, let’s kick some butt tonight.”
You turn, but noone is there.
You are alone, completely, fully, and totally, alone at Graveyard Stadium. And it’s midnight.
Did someone say that? Did someone say something?
Or were you merging into the moment, Friday night football at Graveyard Stadium?
You pinch yourself. “Ouch!” This is real…
You look out onto the field. You watch the game, a game played over 30 years ago, and you cheer for the Panthers loudly just as if this was the moment when the players played and the people of Luxora cheered for the elusive victory.
Just another Friday night at Graveyard Stadium in Luxora. And it’s midnight.
It’s the 1979 Luxora Panthers football team.
It’s not one of our best Friday nights, as the powerhouse McCrory football team blitzes and swarms all over the Panthers on this night.
The line can’t keep the quarterback protected, and you count at least 10 fumbles and an interception on the night.
On both sides there are lots of mistakes, but McCrory is better at capitalizing on the turnovers that come their way.
Then the game ends, and you remain motionless, still caught up in the flow of the moment, awash with nostalgia…
Somewhere inside of you an insistent question emerges. The question refuses to be ignored, and so you confront it, speaking the question out loud, to be heard only by you:
“Why this game?”
Of all the great Panther games, why this one?
McCrory vs Luxora, 1979. Why this game?
The air stands still, yet no answer is given. The mystery rides on the mist coming in from the graveyard.
It’s midnight, and you’re at Graveyard Stadium in Luxora, on a Friday night, a football night, and the people of the town are all together, united around football and their high school football team…
The players file past, and you notice all the heads are held high. These are proud Panthers, and even in defeat, there is Panther pride. We gave all we had on this night, more could not have been given…
You nod your head, agreeing, that it had been a good effort, each player giving everything they had to give on this night…
You look into their eyes for an answer to your question.
Why – this – game?
This is not a question about the game. Your question is much more profound, deeper, and therefore, seemingly without answer…
There is no question about the game, the Panthers had fallen to an outstanding McCrory team, no shame there, for just as the Panthers fall this night, there were many other teams that fell to this McCrory Jaguars powerhouse football team.
No, the question is not why, why did we not win?
On the contrary, the question is: Why this game?
One player lags behind the others. It’s number 86.
He whispers to you as he files past:
“Ask McCrory. Watch the video. They know. They know what a town without high school football is like…”