Let it be known I am by no means a sports reporter.
The chessboard movements and strategies that revolve around a football elude me. When everyone else yells, I yell; when everyone else groans, I groan.
This, therefore, is an exclusive study of the people who sat in the stands for the season’s first home games on Sept. 14 and Sept. 21. Using my handy-dandy press card, I roamed Robinson-Hale Stadium searching for the perspective of the stands. Because if there’s one thing I do know, it’s talking to people.
It was a hot, cloudless Saturday full of sweat. The only breeze came from passersby. Clubs and tribes held tailgates alongside other student organizations and families in honor of the first home football game of the season against Albany State, and prospective students who attended Preview Day.
For many tailgate organizers, such as sophomore Aslan Anthony of Kokoa Men’s Service Club, set-up proved challenging. “Once we figured out how to put the tent together,” Anthony said, “it was smooth sailin’.”
After a good smorgasbord circuit through the tents, it was time to paint up. Twenty-six guys flocked to a far corner of the parking deck, where juniors Shem McConnell and Sam Kinslow turned them into a blue and gold spangled declaration – spaces and exclamations included – “CHOCTAWS ON THE MOVE!!!” Soon they were marching over to Robinson-Hale.
The first half passed with no touchdowns in the Choctaw’s favor. Things looked bleak, but spirits would soon be lifted with halftime’s main event.
The Student Athletic Advisory Committee (SAAC), partnering with Make-A-Wish Mississippi, sent Laina Grace, 11, and her family to Disney World in Orlando, Fla., for a week – all expenses paid. Diagnosed with leukemia in July 2017, Grace endured multiple rounds of chemotherapy and many painful procedures, but two years later completed her treatments and entered remission. While she will be on medication for the rest of her life, Grace can finally get back to living the life she enjoys so much. Jon Harding, a senior and the president of SAAC, said, “It couldn’t have been more perfect. It’s a privilege for us to do this kind of thing.” As a former cancer patient myself, I appreciated what they did for her. I don’t know the words to describe the smile across that little girl’s face.
The game was back on, the tide began to turn, and the Choctaws won 24-17. Sophomore Josi Hill said of her first game,“The student section was all in and really wanted to hype up the team!”
All in all, the first home football game was a spirited success.
This Saturday was hot, but with a few more breezes than the last. This was Family Weekend, and, following Preview Day’s example, families set up tailgates and mingled alongside the clubs and tribes.
Shirtless For Spirit welcomed a few ladies to its swelling ranks this weekend in a historic first. Fear not, they painted letters onto their tank tops. They would need all the help they could get, for kickoff inaugurated the Choctaws’ first Gulf South Conference challenge.
As North Greenville University scored two touchdowns in the first moments of the first quarter, somebody commented aside, “Welcome to the G.S.C.” Robinson-Hale was electric and tense, like a powder keg ready to blow.
Dr. Otis Pickett of MC’s history department was honored at the quarter’s close as Honorary Captain of the Choctaws. He savored this surprise with his son, Otis Jr., who celebrated his ninth birthday that day. The student section applauded and saluted Otis Jr. in song.
Carli Culpepper is a sophomore public relations major working as a photographer and social media promoter for the Choctawk blog. Like me, she looks for inspiration and emotion in the stands. “I was concerned when I saw they were up 14-0 in the first quarter, but now MC’s 20-14 almost at the half, so that’s good!” she said.
Co-captain of the MC Cheer team, junior Malik James, said, “It makes it easier for us to cheer when the team is really good. So far, they’ve been really good. I have high hopes!”
Their optimism proved infectious, because MC led 26-21 at the start of the third quarter. A few interceptions yielded more touchdowns, and before long the Choctaws secured another victory, 39-27.
The student section roared, their ecstasy the final spark that exploded the powder keg heavenward. While they couldn’t rush the field as they did before, the football team rushed them. This reporter was sandwiched between the phalanx of blue and gold and the riotous student section, crammed against the bleachers and scribbling away as hands met above me.
Walking back from Robinson-Hale with a few freshmen, I sought their opinion on the two victories and their perspective on the rest of the season.
“It’s a revolution!” said Kyle So. “Championship season!” said Peyton DePriest. But I think John Garrett Walters said it best:
“It’s only the beginning.”