I didn’t grow up attending football games – my family were never big on sports, we never were out at ball fields and stadiums. My dad never had weekend gatherings with his friends while they watched the games. I only have one memory of watching a televised Florida State Seminoles game as a youngster – and that was only because I wanted to see “The Horse” that came on the field.
Sports was just never a part of my life as a kid and young adult.
Since entering the career field as a local journalist, reporter, and photographer, I have attended plenty of games, enough maybe to make up for my lost athletic interest as a kid. Sometimes I’ve watched games from the sidelines and other times from the bleachers.
I even got the chance to go to the Orlando Camping World Stadium and stand in the grassy sidelines during the 2018 Florida High School Football Championships, snapping photos for my newspaper the entire way.
As a newcomer to the culture of high school sports, it always amazes me how deeply connected the community is when everyone sits shoulder-to-shoulder (or, in this year’s case, six feet apart) in a bleacher around the football field.
During last week’s football game between the Robert F. Munroe Bobcats and Providence Stallions of Jacksonville, I saw people coming together (sometimes socially distanced, sometimes not) and celebrating the same thing: their kids.
Like Gadsden County itself, the sight of the bleachers is painted with a collection of folks; like no two pennies are the same, no two Gadsden residents are the same either.
On paper, Gadsden County is an area of racial, economical, and cultural differences. You have people from all sorts of different walks of life, backgrounds, cultures, races, and mindsets.
Like any other county in the United States, Gadsden County is full of people and where there are people, there are diversities and differences that at times divide us and put us at odds with our fellow man (whether it should or not).
But there on that bleacher – it doesn’t matter who you are, where you came from, or where you are going after the game. All that matters is that you are cheering on your town’s local athletes and giving them the support they need to win the game.
While the athletes play a hard game on the field, children race through, in front of and behind the bleachers – children who were strangers when they arrived but are newfound friends now.
Family groups sit close enough that the lines of who is a friend and who is a stranger begin to blend as they bond over the game.
At a high school football game, people get to be just people and neighbors. We stop letting the divide grow between who we think we are and who we think others are. We let down our built-up walls and openly enjoy the game, the music, and the spirit.
Occasionally, I meet people who have a negative outlook on the current situations in society – all they can see is the dismal spirits, the political and racial divides, the emptiness where once there was community connection.
And while I don’t fully disagree – we, as people, need to work together on our own people skills – I also have a different outlook.
As long as we can still sit together and cheer with strangers over a high school football game…I don’t think our connection with others, our empathy, and our love for our fellow man has gone too far to be saved.
Ashley Hunter – editor