It was a heroes welcome. The two busses full of football players were escorted to the school by fire trucks and ambulances with horns and sirens blaring. They made it to the school sometime between 10:30-10:40.
Before heading into the gym, the players went to ring the bell at the end of their football field. That didn't go so well. The old bell doesn't exactly swing the smoothest. The most effective way to ring it was to pick it up off of it's pedestal and swing it... which they did. And then headed in doors.
As I sat there listening to Dudley Hilton talk for 20 minutes I started to wonder if we as a Sports Department get too close to the players. For me it was something special, not because one of our teams brought home a state title, but rather because I saw them as individuals. We get to know the players personally. So much so that I had a conversation with a father of one of the players about how his wife is doing. (She has been very ill recently, and I wanted to see if she was doing any better.)
These are our kids. We get to know as many of them as we possibly can. We cover 43 football playing schools and 60 basketball playing schools (that doesn't even count baseball, softball and the other sports). Do the math and you'll see how many kids that is.
My other very distanct memory of Bell County in an emotional sporting event came in '07. It was the 13th Region Basketball Semi-Final between Bell County and Corbin. It was one of the single greatest High School games that I have ever been a part of. After Shawnta Zachery drained 2 free throws with about 4 seconds left to put the Bobcats up 1 in overtime, Corbin pushed the ball up the court and found Madison Johnson in the corner for a buzzer beating 3. He was so close that I could have touched him. He buried it for the 66-64 victory.
The Corbin fans poured out onto the court. I was stuck in the middle of a sea of red that was dancing, hugging, screaming and generally going nuts. You know what I'm talking about. Then it happened. I turned around to get out of the mess, and there right in front of me was Trey Goins of Bell County. He looked at me with an expression that looked like he had just lost a family member. Trey was always friendly and talkative to me anytime I came around to shoot a game or an interview. Now here he was, looking completely lost after such a tough defeat. So I did the only thing that I could think to do at that time... hug him. Maybe as members of the media we're not supposed to do that, but I didn't care then and I don't care now.
If we are to celebrate the highs, then we must also remember to be there for the kids and the coaches during the lows. And in this business, there are a lot of highs and even more lows.
So I wanted to say congratulations to the Bell County Bobcats. Thanks for the highs... and the lows. And our prayers go out to those that need them. Get well.