10/18/04 — OPINION -- Game, teams deserved better

View Archive

OPINION -- Game, teams deserved better

By David Williams
Published in Sports on October 18, 2004 1:56 PM

Everyone tried to make the best of it. Goldsboro's football meeting with cross-town neighbor Eastern Wayne was all set for Friday night at the Cougar Den, a big-time rivalry football game with a huge crowd expected and a great atmosphere to be experienced. Both bands, alumni, Goldsboro's homecoming and Eastern Wayne's burgeoning playoff hopes blossoming.

Then came a whisper, a rumor -- the chance that violence might break out at the game as non-school related grudges were said to come to a head at the game.

The Wayne County Public School officials did the right thing and erred on the side of caution, postponing the game to ensure no one would be hurt in any manner. Very few would argue it was the right thing to do.

But the decision had repercussions -- ripples that are going to be felt for awhile.

Players lost the chance to have their highlight game of the year. The choice to stop the game at the 11th hour had an affect on athletes on both sides.

"It was disappointing," said Goldsboro High School's Coriante Thompson. "It wasn't fair to is, or to a lot of people, because a few guys not part of the school decided to make it bad for a lot of us. But it was out of our hands. It was not our fault. We still had a game to play."

"It set us back," said Eastern Wayne's Riley Wilkins. "It took awhile to get back our focus."

But everyone did their best to put it in perspective. The players bounced back and put on a great game, entertaining for the crowd and important to the season expectations for both clubs.

"We woke up to a great day," said the Warriors' Chris Campbell. "Our future was ahead of us. We knew we had to get this game."

The school officials at the game made sure the players and coaches were not hassled by the media members who attended and tried to make the game as routine as possible.

But for all the efforts, the game carried a surreal aura. It was as if the players and coaches were in a time and place not their own.

It also affected Goldsboro High in ways not immediately evident to the casual observer. The game was to be the biggest gate of the football season for a school that struggles to generate revenue. With a rival in town and homecoming at hand, the gate would have bolstered the Cougar athletic program for months.

Instead, Goldsboro got nothing from what was to be their biggest money-maker.

"It hurts," said Goldsboro High athletics director Randy Jordan. "It hurts a lot."

Fortunately, an anonymous benefactor left a generous donation to the Goldsboro High program that will help defray the costs. But looking ahead, Goldsboro only has two home games left -- against Southern Wayne and Kinston. The effect of the postponement could cause fans to worry about their safety and not come to the games, further hurting the Cougars' gate receipts.

The situation furthered an unfair and unwarranted reputation Goldsboro has had to bear for the last several years -- that it is dangerous to be associated with the program, that the student-athletes have an air of unsavoriness and trouble follows the Cougars.

Nothing is further from the truth. It is not fair and not even remotely linked to anything true. The players are all respectful and cordial, as are the staff and support personnel.

The only way to break the Cougars' jinxed reputation lies in each one of us.

We can all give in to our fears, our biases and the darkest part of our understanding and just allow the struggles to continue.

Or we can all stand, each of us as individuals and all as one mighty voice, to embrace the school and the students and give them our support and respect.

If we do not, surely we will all be silently conceding the school to unfortunate elements -- as well as a little of our own resolve. Can the same problems at the other schools be far behind those concessions?