What the gold ball really is all about
BY IVAN SANDERS
STAR SPORTS EDITOR
For many, winning the state championship is all about bringing a giant gold football on a pedestal back to the high school as the team who was able to overcome all adversity and play the best game of their season managed to come out on top on the scoreboard.
But there is more to winning a gold ball.
In the movie Facing the Giants, the character playing the head coach asked his team who had won the state championship a few years back and the players couldn’t answer.
He even asked who had won in a shorter time frame and still no one knew the answer.
The truth of the matter is most people around couldn’t tell you who the state champs in football in Class 4A were five years ago, myself included unless I just took a wild stab at it being Greeneville.
Early this coming Saturday morning, the Elizabethton Cyclone players, coaches, support staff, administrators, and cheerleaders will be boarding a bus and heading down I-40 toward Cookeville where they will play the Haywood Tomcats for the 2020 Bluecross Bowl Class 4A State Championship and yes a gold ball.
However, there is much more at stake here as this game is another opportunity to create memories for those participating, a chance to help 2020 to have a shining memory in a year that was, for the most part, one of gloom, despair, and misery, and to once again bond the Carter County and Elizabethton community in support of a group of kids who beat the odds to gain a second consecutive shot at the state championship.
One cannot forget it took over 80 years to win the state championship in 2019 at a school that has played football for a lot of years.
No one knows more about memories created in playing football as a Cyclone than local businessman Joe Alexander who was a standout player for Elizabethton in his heyday in high school.
“Last year, I was absolutely thrilled witnessing the Cyclones go through the season undefeated and bring home a State Championship,” remarked Alexander. “This year, I am even more awe-struck thinking about how difficult it has to have been for the team to continue its unblemished record and be on the brink of securing a second straight Gold Ball.
“With the loss of some key personnel and all of the expectations and distractions associated with being defending State Champions, the staff and players have pulled together and provided us with another unforgettable season regardless of the outcome of the final game.
“The success of the Cyclones and the other teams in Carter County is only a part of why we should all be proud of our community,” continued Alexander. “It is a beautiful area with wonderful people and the Cyclones just give us another reason to puff out our chests a little farther.
“We all need to learn from these young people that hard work and unselfish discipline can lead to great rewards.”
To be called a champion is something that everyone loves to feel and experience whether it is from winning as a Little Leaguer, taking a chess tournament, baking the best pie at the fair, or winning a Rook tournament at a Senior Citizens retirement center.
However, it also means a special opportunity to represent one’s community and for the years ahead to hear stories about how the Cyclones won the 2019 state championship and EARNED the opportunity to repeat during the pandemic year of 2020.
Elizabethton High School Principal, Dr.Jon Minton, was asked what it does for the school and the community to have Elizabethton return back to the state championship once again.
“A return to Cookeville for a chance at back-to-back championships speaks volumes for everyone involved in making a complete season a reality,” Minton said. “I know the players, coaches, cheerleaders, ensemble groups, and members of the Betsy Band have worked hard and adjusted along the way with everything we have been asked to consider.
“Unfortunately, COVID-19 has been a factor for some of our student-athletes but we have taken every measure to support them and get them to a safe and healthy return.
“Our community is the backbone of our school and they have proven that, even amidst adversary conditions, they still stand behind us and want to see great things happen. It’s a great thing to be a part of.”
Dr. Minton on to add that having the chance to take the field on Saturday in Cookeville is both a blessing and testament to the preparation, flexibility, and resilience of a school and community.
“Experiencing some sense of normalcy is important for everyone and Friday nights have given us something to look forward to during a time where things have been so uncertain,” Minton added. “Everyone in our school has taken COVID-19 very seriously and, in turn, approached new expectations and requirements with a sense of urgency so that we can have a safe experience in the classroom and on the field.”
Elizabethton has always seemed to be the underdog in a lot of circles but after winning the title in 2019, the Cyclones have earned the respect of sportswriters throughout the state as they started out as the number one ranked team in Class 4A in the state and maintained that for the entire season.
That ranking, however, has not changed the attitude and work ethic of the 2020 team who after discovering some keys to success along the way have worked hard since the 2019 season came to an end even during times that changed the overall picture of working out.
Director of Schools Richard VanHuss stated that it was just a blessing to have the opportunity the Cyclones have before them to defend their title.
“During a year with so many challenges and disappointments, this team has been a bright spot for the Cyclone Family,” VanHuss said. “We have enjoyed watching them perform at such a high level.
“We are very proud of our school system’s tradition of excellence, and that includes athletic programs. Opportunities like this don’t come around very often, as this is only our third opportunity in the 96-year history of our football program.
“It’s a dream to win one state title, but having a chance to win back-to-back titles is extremely special. There are many alumni around the country that are pulling for the Cyclones to bring another title back to Elizabethton.”
VanHuss said that the success of the Cyclones has united people for one common cause but that has always been the case whenever a team within the county has a team that makes a trip for an elusive state appearance much like they did when Unaka won the 2004 State Basketball championship to the surprise of many.
It just goes to show that no matter what color one’s blood may run during an athletic campaign, that blood color is subject to change when the county and community come together to support teams that are making a state championship bid.
“We have such a proud sense of community in Elizabethton,” VanHuss said. “I think that what makes Elizabethton so special.
“We have always taken on the “underdog” role and that has become part of our makeup as a community. This team is the perfect embodiment of our town’s spirit!
“We are a community of hard workers and we are extremely loyal to, and supportive of, each other. These traits spill over into our athletic teams. I think our community loves how this team has stuck together through all the adversity they have faced this year,” VanHuss continued.
“We can all relate, and we appreciate their ability to succeed in spite of those challenges. Elizabethton is the envy of most communities because of our fan support. We always support our children, no matter what they are doing. I encourage everyone to enjoy this experience, and support our team!”
So, you see, it’s not about a gold ball – it’s about community, support, love, and unity. Something that Carter Countians and folks of Elizabethton know all about.
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