In this business we’re not supposed to care about who wins or loses. We’re there to cover the games, tell readers what happened, and write about the players and coaches the community cares about. The scoreboard isn’t supposed to be a concern for us, and most of the time that’s the way it works.
But there are times when it’s a struggle to remain removed from the lives you come into contact with — you want good things to happen for good people. You want to see kids who’ve never seen anything but bad times on the football field experience the joy and exhiliration that only winning brings.
That’s what’s happening for the Jackson County Panthers this year, and if your heart pumps blood infused with an ounce of compassion and the slightest regard for athletics at this level, it should be bursting with happiness for them.
Mine’s not supposed to, but it is.
In the school’s football-playing history, it has a winning percentage that looks more like a batting average (.269), and in their first three years of high school football, this year’s senior class had just three wins. They’ve been beaten down, laughed at, humiliated.
“When I took this job three years ago, we were stuck playing (Class) AAAA football after the school split (to create East Jackson High School), and it was just miserable,” Jackson County coach Billy Kirk said. “It was miserable for our kids, it was miserable for us as coaches. It was just no fun, because you know every Friday night you’re going to go out and get your butt kicked. You knew it.”
They went 0-10 that first year. Last season they were 1-8-1.
With that kind of history, a team develops a reputation as a pushover; the kind of team opponents want to schedule when they really need a win.
“It’s like I told my kids yesterday,” Kirk said. “We’re fixin’ to go on the homecoming circuit. And I don’t blame teams for putting us on the homecoming circuit. When we go away, we’re going to be everybody’s homecoming game, because Jackson County is the whipping boy. I told our kids, ‘your job is to go in there and find out who their homecoming queen is and dance with her.’ That’s what we want. I want our kids to have that mentality.
“Because, you know, it’s embarrassing that you’re everybody’s homecoming game, but in the same breath, you’ve got a chance to ruin their week, and that’s what we’re striving for, to go in and make people realize they shouldn’t schedule Jackson County for homecoming next year.”
The word is spreading, and so is the excitement.
For the first time since 1981, the Panthers are 3-0. And they’re not just squeaking by (they’ve outscored opponents by a combined total of 99-10).
If they win their Region 8-AAA opener tonight at Morgan County, they’ll be 4-0 for the first time in school history. That may not happen, but the 2009 Panthers have already served notice that they’re nobody’s whipping boy.
“Our goal when we started the season was to make the playoffs, and we’re striving to that goal,” Kirk said. “Will it happen? I don’t know. I don’t know if we’ll win another football game.
“But I know one thing: the right things are happening at Jackson County football today.”
And that much is worth cheering for, whether you’re supposed to or not.
This week’s predictions:
Patriots over Falcons: The only safe bet here is the over. Tom Brady’s due to bust out, and if Mark Sanchez found holes in the New England defense, Matt Ryan should shred it. The home team gets the edge in a shootout.
Georgia over Arizona State: May be a trap game after a 2-0 SEC start, but I don’t think the Dogs are in any real danger.
Georgia Tech over North Carolina: The Heels sound a little overconfident after swatting the Jackets last year. They’ll get stung this time around.
Jackson County over Morgan County: Ok, maybe I’m picking with my heart.
North Oconee over Banks County: Titans continue rolling toward late-season battle with Jefferson.
Buford over Decatur: A loss proved the Wolves vulnerable; it also made them angry.
Chestatee over Pickens: Offense-challenged Dragons won’t keep pace with War Eagles.
Lincoln County over Commerce: Red Devils get the edge in this small-town showdown.
West Forsyth over East Hall: The Vikings offense is improving, but isn’t where it needs to be to top a tough foe like the Wolverines.
Flowery Branch over Johnson: Too many Falcon weapons.
Gainesville over West Hall: The Spartans have struggled defensively, while the Red Elephants are getting better every week.
Habersham Central over Winder-Barrow: A balanced Raider offense prevails.
Jefferson over Union County: Defense dooms the Panthers.
Wesleyan over Lakeview: In their second year of varsity football, the Lions aren’t ready to take down a program like Wesleyan.
Lumpkin County over Gilmer: Defense pushes the Indians to 3-1.
Creekview over North Hall: A possible changing of the 7A-AAA guard.
East Jackson over Riverside: Unbeaten East Jackson quickly becoming a contender.
Towns County over Dade County: Indians picking up confidence, and a second straight win.
Rabun County over Dawson County: Tigers go down in defensive catfight.
Last week: 11-4. Overall: 50-14.
Brent Holloway is The Times’ sports editor. Contact him at email@example.com.