Although he wasn’t very athletic, my dad loved high school football season. I can remember when I was real young going to the games with him at the old Ahoskie High School. Back then, he would take me in the game and just let me run. For some reason he always sat on the visitor’s side all the way at the top. He would tell me as we came through the gate; “I’m going right up there. If you need me, come get me. Behave yourself. Come up there when there is 2 minutes left in the game.” And at that point I was off and running! It amazed me that you would turn 6 and 7 year old kids loose like that but those were very different times than today.
And then we moved back to Elizabeth City in ’69. That was the year that all of the high schools in the county consolidated into Northeastern High. There wasn’t a football field at the new school so all of the games were played at Memorial Field which was located downtown behind the Sheep-Harney Elementary School. This was the field that had been in use even back when my parents were in high school. But things were very different now.
My dad made me sit with him when we went to the first game there. I didn’t understand that at all as we went in but it wasn’t long before I understood why. Racially driven fights would periodically breakout around the field and people would go running from every direction into the area where the fights were occurring. Even though this was happening away from where we were sitting it was scary to a 10 year old. Fortunately these extreme racial tensions didn’t seem to last very long into the season. I think this was greatly helped by the fact that our team was one of the best high school teams in the state that year. A lot of tensions can get swept under the rug by a winning record.
As the years went by, I remember every August my dad would take me out to the old Central High School field where the team practiced before the season started. He always liked to see what the team looked like. And once the season started, he would attend the booster clubs meeting every week where the coach would review the film with the club members and talk about the coming weeks game.
He never missed a game…. home or away. And I remember how hoarse he would be at the end of the game from yelling encouragement to the team. He was the best fan a team could have. Once the new stadium was built at Northeastern, he sat on the home side for the first time that I ever remembered. But he still sat way at the top of the stands…. standing up for most of the game….
If I go to a high school stadium even today, I always look up at the top of the stands on the visitor side… looking for the lone fan, standing by himself…. cheering just as loud as anyone…. and I smile.