Pride-filled pandemonium reigned in Cherokee Saturday night, Dec. 8, as the victorious Cherokee Braves football team returned to town. Police cars and fire trucks from the Cherokee Police Department and Jackson County Sheriff’s Department flashed their lights and blared their horns in an escort that had met the buses all the way back at Balsam, and fireworks filled the air as fans already tired from the five-hour drive back from Raleigh cheered till they were hoarse.

At a Friday night football game against Murphy, the Franklin High School cheerleaders took to the field like they do before every game to display a spirit banner for their team’s players to run through.

This is what it means to be an American.

I’m talking about NFL players and coaches and owners uniting to protest during the national anthem because they disagree with our president after he called for team owners to fire every “son of bitch” kneeling during the anthem. I’m talking about black athletes at the Mexico City Olympic Games in 1968 raising fists in support of the Black Panther movement, of people who burn flags, even those who heckled Vietnam War veterans on their return home because they disagreed with the conflict.

In Charles Martin’s novel A Life Intercepted (Center Street Publishers, 2014, 326 pages), college senior Matthew “the Rocket” Rising has everything going for him. He’s one of the best college quarterbacks the gridiron has ever seen, the NFL has made him the number one pick in the draft, and various sports companies are salivating to have The Rocket endorse their products. Best of all, Matthew is married to Audrey, his high school sweetheart, his helpmate and anchor whose love for him seems bottomless. 

The RPMs hovered around 4,000, the truck huffing and puffing up the steep hillside.

Approaching Sam’s Gap (elevation 3,760 feet) on Interstate 26, I wondered if my old GMC Sonoma (aka: “Grace”) would be able to reach the crest before stalling out and rolling back down into rural Madison County. With Asheville and greater Western North Carolina fading into the rearview mirror, the blazing Friday afternoon sun began to fall behind the Bald Mountains nearing the Tennessee state line.

jacksonDuring their meeting last week, Jackson County commissioners granted additional funds needed to help replace the football field at Smoky Mountain High School in Sylva.

fr turfIn the quest to replace the football field at Smoky Mountain High School in Sylva with artificial turf, Jackson County Schools is going public in the search for funds to finance its field of dreams.

op panthersFor some time, I have been worried that my children are not learning the coping skills they will need in order to handle disappointment, failure, and setbacks when they grow up. They are, after all, growing up in a culture that values self-esteem above all other things, which means that they have for years been given prizes, trophies, ribbons, tee shirts, and certificates for everything they do, which includes simply showing up — or not showing up if they don’t feel like it. I think the idea is to make sure that all children understand that they are special, and to protect them from potentially self-esteem damaging experiences such as losing a tee ball game.

fr turfSchool officials in Jackson County will be crossing their fingers over the next few weeks, hoping to get a low number back from a study looking at the cost of putting artificial turf on the football field of Smoky Mountain High School.

op coxWhen my daughter, who is a freshman this year at Tuscola High School, made the Color Guard this summer, the first thought I had was that I would soon be seeing high school football games again for the first time since the late 1980s, when I was a fledgling sports writer for the Watauga Democrat in Boone. My second thought was that I would finally get my first real taste of the vaunted Tuscola-Pisgah rivalry, an intense battle that has been going on for more than 50 years.

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