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Game Of Tears: September 14, 2001

It was Football Friday Night in America. Maybe it shouldn’t have been. Believe me, it was hotly debated before the decision was made to move forward with the week’s scheduled games. This was no ordinary Football Friday Night, this was the Football Friday Night a mere 80 hours after the tragedy of September 11, 2001. It was also only one of two times I’d been brought to tears associated with a football game, either as a coach or a player.

CONTACT/S: 30 Exhibition -ACP

In the grand scheme of things, football is not life. Sure there are ups and downs, wins and losses, injuries and triumphs all associated with this great game. Even so, I’ve never really felt the need to cry over a sport, even one I am so passionate about. But on that night, September 14, 2001, standing on a football field in my homeland of Wyandotte County, KS, tears streamed down my face from the emotion of that awful week in American history.

The powers that be in the state decided to go ahead and play the scheduled games that Friday. I don’t envy the people who made that decision; it had to be a difficult one to say the least. But we needed to move forward, we needed to establish a normalcy in our own backyards. We needed  to find some way to accept the inexplicable tragedy and restore some means of logic into our lives.

At Tuesday practice the evening of the tragic events, all I remember is that we were shell-shocked. I don’t recall much from that afternoon except trying to establish some sort of normal practice within the quagmire of shock. And these poor teenage boys asked question after question of which there were no answers to.

After we watched the horrific images on television, we tried to cope with the unimaginable event as best we could for the next two days. America was attacked on its own soil by terrorist. As hard as it was, we tried to keep this on the periphery and keep a football focus in order to give the kids a place to escape the tragedy, if only for a few hours.

Friday came. Game day. We made a two and a half hour bus trip to Kansas City Piper High School. The normal pre-game preparations ensued as game time crept closer. I was looking forward to this trip because this game was in Wyandotte County. I was born and raised in Wyandotte County, it is in my blood. It is a tough-minded place that produced tough-minded people. The whole Kansas City family was there and my own family made the trip also. I felt a great sense of pride coming home coaching the visiting team against a school I really hadn’t liked since the misguided days of my youth.

Both teams lined up before the game in the middle of the football field. Uniform color did not matter one bit as the kids and coaches and officials stood together for a moment of silence in memory of the victims of the terrorist attacks. So there I stood in silence, the soil of my homeland holding me onto a planet tipping wildly out of control, questions and chaos threatening to punt me into the stratosphere of despair.

The moment of silence seemed to last forever and a day. There was nothing but stillness and quiet. No whispers and no jokes from even the most immature of teenage boys. No noise from the large crowds gathered, the traffic seemed to freeze in time and even the sun dove for the horizon in hues of orange across the cloud-tinged blue sky. Solemn. The very meaning of the word.

Then the National Anthem began and I think everyone within a ten mile radius of the stadium sang the Star Spangled Banner that night. It was beautiful. It was meaningful. Of the hundreds of times I’ve sang it in school and the thousands of times I’ve heard it at various events, it has never really hit an emotional string. But, this time, on Piper High School Field, mere days after terrorists attempted to destroy the very heart and soul of America, the national anthem hit home.

We sang it loud and we sang it poorly. Nobody cared. We were united. When we hit the last three lines, I think the true spirit, emotion, and meaning of the Star Spangled Banner flooded across me for the first time ever.

Oh, say can you see by the dawn’s early light

What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming?

Whose broad stripes and bright stars thru the perilous fight,

O’er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?

And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,

Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.

Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave

O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?”

I understood. The meaning was crystal clear. Our flag was still here, our country was still here, and it would take more than an act of terrorism to squash our spirit. The flood of emotions pent-up all week flowed down my cheeks in the tears. The horror, the sadness, the loss, the pain, and the total helplessness dripped with each salty tear from my eye.

I wasn’t sure whether it was right to play those games on the Friday night until that moment. It was the right thing to do. By moving forward with these sporting events it not only provided a distraction away from 24 hours of news coverage, it gave a reason for Americans to congregate and spend time with their community. It gave us a chance to begin the healing process.

We won more than a football game that night. We, as a group, learned to persevere and to move forward.

God Bless America!

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Touch The Sign

When I was just starting out as a Rule 10 football coach at Clay Center Community High School back in the year 2000, I was a mild mannered, timid, and completely clueless football coa…SCREEECHHH.

Sorry boys for the stretch of the truth, please let me start again.

Okay, when I was just starting out as a Rule 10 football coach back in the year 2000, I was an excitable, raving lunatic, who was completely clueless as a football coach. There, I said it. Then something happened. I read the Blackie Book and I read Coach Otto Unruh’s book, HOW TO COACH WINNING FOOTBALL.

The Blackie Book is a compilation put together (and updated each year) by Coach Blackie Lane. It contains virtually the entire historic record of high school football in Clay Center. It is an incredible piece of history and if you haven’t seen it, you should make the effort.

HOW TO COACH WINNING FOOTBALL by the long time Clay Center and Bethel College head coach is a valuable slice of wisdom, both in the schematic football knowledge of the day and in the timeless methodology of coaching young boys into young men.

I read these two documents and became transformed by the tradition of football in our town. I realized what a heavy responsibility fell on one who coaches in this program and I vowed not to be a disappointment. I worked and read, and read and worked. I research and studied football coaching, football theory, especially offensive and defensive line play. But most of all, I studied strength and conditioning.

We aren’t big in CC, we aren’t exceedingly fast, and never really have been. But tradition holds these truths; we play hard, we hit hard, and we come after you every play of every game.

Tiger Tradition.

Another thing we started doing back around 2002 (or one of those years) was having each player touch the Otto Unruh Stadium sign at the south end of the stadium prior to pregame introductions. Fans may or may not have ever noticed this, but they still do it.

I don’t coach anymore, mostly because of the excitable, raving lunatic descriptors I used earlier in this post. Out of curiosity, though, I asked a couple current players if they knew why they “Touch the Sign” before home games. They did not know, but they were eager to find out. So, here is the reason you touch that sign, boys.

We “Touch The Sign” before we take the field for home games at Otto Unruh Stadium as a tribute to all those who played Clay Center Football before us.

We pledge with that one touch we will play with honor, courage, intensity, and sportsmanship on our home field and in front of our community.

We promise we will leave the Clay Center mark on our opponent in defeat and in victory. They will know by their battered and tired bodies they played the Clay Center Tigers.

We play for 100+ years of Clay Center football:

  • 836 games, 453-337-46 record, a .542 winning %
  • 63% of all teams had a winning record
  • 10 undefeated seasons

We play for the early Clay Center Dynasties:

1. V.R. Vegades Era 1920-1926; 42-10-2, a .778 winning %

  • 1920 – 7-1 record
  • 1921 – 8-1 undefeated regular season. Lost to Topeka in playoffs.
  • 1922 – 7-1 Did not get scored on all season until last game, a 7-6 loss to Manhattan. Beat Concordia 101-0.
  • 1923 – 6-1, No TD’s given up the entire season. Lost final game to Manhattan 6-3 but only gave up 2 FG’s.
  • 1924 – 6-1, only gave up 3 TD’s all season.

2. C.A. Nelson Era 1930-1941; 69-27-13, a .670 winning % and 3 undefeated seasons.

We play for the Otto Unruh Era:

  • 1945-1966; 126-65-8, a .633 winning %
  • Won 3 Class A State Championships
  • 3 undefeated 9-0 seasons.
  • 1956 and 1957 teams went 18-0 and won 2 state titles.
  • 1963 team went 8-1 and won state championship. Only loss of year was to Manhattan, 7-6, on a missed PAT.

We play for the Larry Wiemers Era:

  • 1977-1994; 114-71, a .616 winning%
  • 1978, 1979, 1980 teams went 26-5, 2 District championships and 3 NCKL titles
  • 1980 team went 10-1, losing only to Andover in the regional final.
  • 1983, 1984, 1985 teams went 25-8, Substate, district and bi-district titles.
  • 1993 team went 10-1, NCKL champs, district, bi-district, regional runner-up

So, gentlemen, there’s the story behind why you Touch the Sign. Good luck and NEVER forget,

There is no #TigerFamily without #TigerTradition.

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