A Different View
As the playoffs continue in South Carolina and many fans post about their great teams and their championship aspirations; I can't help but call attention to those other teams, the ones sitting at home right now. To be more specific, the schools that didn't get that 12th game, that extra chance to prove themselves on a statewide stage.
Many of these schools don't make the playoffs on a regular basis and some must wonder what exactly does it take to be a fan of one of these teams. How do you root against the odds? How do you go when you know the outcome may very well be unfavorable? How can you hope when you haven't made the playoffs since 1995? As a fan of the South Aiken High School Thoroughbreds I am able to see this side of high school athletics and what it takes to avidly support a team that many have never heard of.
That's how long the losing streak lasted. It began after a two-game winning streak ended and no one was concerned about it as the losses mounted. A new coach was in town and the previous season was a 1-10 campaign and expectations weren't overbearing. It was 1997 and the season ended with seven straight losses. For the next two-seasons there were low moments and lopsided scores and the usually sparse crowd grew much thinner. Community support was hard to come by with no home field to play on and people not wanting to be a part of this program. During this time, my brother, a captain of the '96 squad, did the unthinkable. He volunteered to coach the JV's. I assisted some with statistics and timekeeping and we were there to try to help the coaching staff with the menial coaching and assisting duties at a time when there was nobody wanting to do these things. Why? I was proud of my alma mater and wanted to help out. I didn't blame people for backing away or distancing themselves as even I found some excuses not to make certain road trips.
Finally things started to turn in the '99 off-season. Our own stadium was finished as Coach Dan Pippin was hired from Michigan to give the program a fresh start. The enthusiasm returned and the people started to come back. More qualified assistants showed up and my brother left to join the Navy so I felt compelled to return to being a fan. Pippin brought the spread offense with him and with it came the end to the losing streak. The wins perhaps came too quickly at first with a 4-1 start and a region upset of Irmo. The season ended with a losing streak of six games and a solid class of seniors leaving. This year featured a very young group and another 4-7 campaign. The season ended strongly and there is a large amount of hope for the 2002 season.
To support a team that doesn't win all too often you have to be a very positive and forgiving individual. There is no sense of superiority or overconfidence in the home stands. Humility is a noble trait and these kids who are seniors now and in the coming years have their share of humbling experiences to keep themselves grounded. They are learning to win in football and in life now and with that the fans are learning how to win again too. They have a field to call our own and a returning sense of pride at being a Thoroughbred. There are no problems with fair-weather fans, ticket availability, incidents involving opposing fans, or bickering about coaching. There is promise of a brighter day ahead and to rise up and truly enjoy what the playoffs are all about, you must experience the downs of losing. I think the kid that competes in athletics and never loses is missing out on something. I remember we lost my first eight games when I played junior varsity. When that win finally came, it was that much sweeter. And to make the playoffs my senior year was the greatest reward for the hard work and effort (not to mention the injury) that it took to get there. Our record then: 4-7.
For every game there is one winner and one loser. While I don't want to take anything away from the winners, the losing team does not need to be ignored. This is my salute to the South Aiken, Boiling Springs, Ridge View, and Lower Richland squads of the world. The kids there put it on the line 11 Fridays a year just like everyone else and play before smaller crowds and against great odds. They aren't in this for the empty ‘ugly' wins or ‘moral' victories. They lace it up because they love football.
From the coaches to the players to the fans, it is for the love of the sport. To them one win might mean more than several wins for a top flight program. To watch a losing team is where you can truly since the essence of high school athletics, the love of what it is all really about. To some teams the playoffs are a given year in and year out, but to the rest of us it's a great reward and an experience that every team should have the chance to experience both making and being denied the chance to go. I've felt both and the experience of winning is so much sweeter when you don't get it all too often. So I'll be there to celebrate the victorious on December 1st but in the back of my mind will always be the overmatched, the underdog, the 0-11's, the kids who are at home working in the weight rooms. All for a piece of that sweet glory known as winning. Cake taste sweeter when you chew on cardboard long enough…….
A salute to the kids who gave it there all this year and fell just a little short. You have my gratitude for trying. Thanks for the memories!
South Aiken football