By: Garrett Mitchell, Staff Writer
Football is a purveyor of unity and a harbinger of hope.
Frankly, there has not been much to be hopeful about over the past 20 months. On Friday, August 20th, on a perfect, magical night at W.L. Varner Stadium, there was unity and hope in our small corner of South Carolina.
All was right with the world.
Make no mistake, we are a football town. Football is interwoven into the fabric of our identity. It has been a defining hallmark for generations of residents from Woodruff, Enoree, and Cross Anchor. It is a part of who and what we are; it makes us unique, and for a few special Friday nights every fall, it unites us all under the same banner.
We have not seen much of that recently. Not by choice but rather by necessity.
Nobody saw COVID-19 coming. It entered our lives like a thief in the night and robbed our joy, our health, and countless lives. For most of us, in 2020, it took away one of the mainstays that solidify our togetherness.
Woodruff Wolverine football.
While the Wolverines did play a truncated schedule, marred by cancellations and uncertainty, few were there to see a young team grow by immeasurable leaps and mature as players and young men. Our community, by and large, was relegated to internet live streams or, for a lucky few, fleeting glimpses over the fence that separates the Varner Stadium field from the high school parking lot.
Metaphorically and literally, the pandemic cut off the lifeblood of Wolverine football. It erected a proverbial barrier between our youth and the scores of their biggest fans. They stood on an island and fought valiantly while the masses cheered from afar, in spirit, but not in person.
That is what made Friday, August 20th so special.
It has long been said that football in the South is like a second religion. Nowhere, at least in my opinion, personifies that notion more than Woodruff. All you have to do is sit in the home bleachers and peer over Cross Anchor Highway.
First Baptist Church of Woodruff, with its towering steeple, stands tall over our stadium. When the twilight sets in and the lights come on, I still find it one of the most breathtaking sights around. I am in my happy place. So many others like me are too. We are hopeful for a win and stand behind our young men who work so diligently to make our hope a reality.
Some things, however, are much bigger than a singular game.
When the Wolverines charged through that banner to Milton Smith’s call of ‘Here come the Wolverines!’ they were greeted by their most faithful supporters, a throng numbering in the thousands, who lifted up one of the loudest thundering cheers I have seen in nearly two decades on the Varner Stadium sideline. For the first time in almost two years, the stands, and our hearts, were full. For many of the younger players, it was the first time they had ever seen a packed stadium. I talked to several of those young men after the game and can assure you as they did to me that it is a sight and sound they will never forget.
They have been waiting for us to share that moment with them, and I assuredly say they do not take it for granted.
When kicker Noah Gaspar jarred the ball loose from the Chesnee return man, in the first seconds of the new season, the explosion of cheers from the hometown fans was something I cannot explain in hindsight, save to say, it was among the loudest moments I have experienced at a Woodruff football game.
I imagine it was the release of a homogenous mixture of fear, relief, and pure, exuberant joy.
In no way am I saying that things in our country and around the world are in a good place. They are not. The threat of sickness is still an ever-present danger. Still, we are beating the odds every day. We made it home, Wolverine Nation!
I saw families, friends, neighbors, and students standing together, side by side. Unified. Hopeful. For one night, everything was ok. For three hours, we forgot about the world outside and the hurt that is permeating it. It is our hope and our prayer that everything will be ok for good sooner rather than later.
Our Wolverines won the game, but their victory, and ours, was far more significant than those numbers on the scoreboard.
Welcome back, everyone.