Clinton, South Carolina, Friday, August 21, 2015, 11:27 a.m.
Tonight Clinton High School opens its varsity football season at home against A.C. Flora of Columbia. The Red Devils defeated the Falcons in the first round of the 2013 3A playoffs and agreed to open the 2014 and ’15 seasons against them. A year ago, Flora returned the favor rather effectively with a 27-0 win over a Clinton team that would have a rough season.
Now Clinton has a new coach (Andrew Webb), a new offensive system, and the optimism that comes to town with every season. On Thursday, I drove over to the school gymnasium to watch the band play and all the athletes introduced to a crowd of fans on one side and, across the way, a host of cheerleaders and athletes representing the various sports at both the middle school, which is now located in what used to be the high school, and the high school proper. They took their places after being introduced, and by the time it was over, the far side was nearly as full as the near.
People signed up for the booster club and bought shirts and caps. The veteran P.A. announcer, Mark Entrekin, and the excitable “Voice of the Red Devils,” Buddy Bridges, introduced every kid, from middle-school volleyball to varsity football, as they walked and trotted out to midcourt at varying speeds and countenances, some on crutches and others in flip-flops. As kids get older, the rate of movement apparently slows as the swagger increases.
They all seemed confident. They all had their dreams, their hopes, their ambitions, their aspirations, their senses of humor intact. They’re colts and fillies who haven’t been broken.
It is a good thing. It will not be as easy as it seemed on Thursday night. They basked in the heady optimism and the high expectations. The town is in a good mood. Four of the school’s baseball players played on an American Legion team that won the national championship, on ESPU, no less, and the 9- and 10-year-olds won a state championship of their own.
The dreams of exceptionalism are intact.
Now, of course, the kids who basked in the spotlights must play their games. They must crank up the fight songs. They must swish the pompons. They must block, tackle, run, pass, catch, dig up and spike volleyballs, cross the nearby country, and, somehow, do it all in a coordinated and unified fashion. They rest secure in the knowledge that the community is behind them, but the community cannot perform the aforementioned tasks.
Clinton football is two head coaches and six years removed from the school’s eighth state championship. The memory is still relatively fresh, though dimmed by recent results. From the shores of Lake Greenwood to the banks of the Enoree, families send their kids to the schools of District 56, of which Clinton High School is the flagship. This has been the case since long before my mother, father, sisters and brother went to school. It has probably been the case since the villages were linked by more than horses and wagons.
The Clinton Red Devils do not merely represent the school. They don’t merely represent the principal town. They represent the crossroads and the rural routes. Even in the neighboring towns, people are wondering if Clinton will come back this year.
The odds don’t favor them. The schedule is tough. The Red Devils do not back away from powerhouses, even though their own power has recently subsided. If the coming year isn’t successful, the expectations will still be high before the next one. This year, improvement will suffice, but the fans are tired of losing, and the players even more so.
In spite of all this, the kids who hit the field tonight have no responsibility for those who came before them. They have to go out there under the bright lights and win for themselves. They alone will reap the benefits or absorb the adversity, and regardless of what happens against the Falcons of Flora, next week another challenging opponent looms, and then another, and another, until the season is over, and then there will be more sports and more seasons, and more expectations that will sizzle or fizzle in the glare of competition.
What I will try to remember is the faces of the kids as I watched them trot, saunter, amble, and march out to midcourt last night. I expect the wins will outnumber the losses, whether the folks in the grandstands realize it or not.
The kids will not play sports forever. They will have to make a living. The principal way I make mine is by writing, and I hope you will consider buying the books that are available here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1