Thursday night lights

Published 8:56 am Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The slightly bumpy field and chilly temperatures did nothing to deter the excitement of the growing crowd. Cock County’s team donned their black jerseys with pride and ran onto the field amidst scores of cheering fans. It had taken a little planning, but Mike and I were among them.

Our daughter, Melinda, called several weeks ago with some news. “Aidan has decided to go out for football, Mom,” she said. Surprise that our young drummer was jumping the fence gave way to one certainty. If Aidan was playing, “Pop” and I would make it to at least one game.

For weeks we prepared for our trip. Mike gave plenty of notice to take a couple of days off work. Fortunately for our little dachshund, Missy, a trusted friend offered to care for her while we were away. I gave my plants one last drink as Missy obediently plopped down in her little carrier. After locking the house up tight, dropping Missy at David’s, and picking Mike up from work, we were finally on our way.

Old glory waved in the breeze as if on cue as the national anthem crackled through the ancient speakers. Cheers rolled across the Tennessee hills in tribute to those who had fought for our freedom. The referee’s shrill whistle pierced the air, and it was on!

Soon I was busy yelling some relevant suggestion to the coaches. Fact is, I was so engrossed in the game that when a little football came whizzing to me as a souvenir, I caught it and threw it back before I realized what was happening.

Folks in Newport, the small city where our number 79 lives, love their football. Fans wear orange on game day for the nearby Vols and discuss the college and high school games with gusto at the local coffee shops.

But the game we traveled to see was under the lights on Thursday night. The middle schoolers on the field wowed us with their physical acuity and athleticism. Players from both teams gave their all on the field but played the game with respect for their opponents and teammates.

When a rival received an injury, a hush fell over the crowd as players from both teams took a knee. Spontaneous applause broke out when the injured young man recovered enough to limp off the field, and the crowd breathed a collective sigh of relief.

Much the same scenario plays out weekly in stadiums and fields across this land. The players smell like wet puppies or worse. They learn to work hard for a common goal. They learn to watch their teammates’ backs and trust their teammates to watch theirs. The fortunate ones learn respect and good sportsmanship from their coaches.

This time of year people sit and cheer. Some travel for miles. Week in and week out the stands are filled with moms and dads, grandparents and friends… not necessarily for the love of the game, but for the love of the boys who play it.

Jan Penton Miller can be reached at