Turf or Nothing – Football 2020


Sadie McDonald and Grace Helmuth

“Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy)” by Big & Rich blared through junior Brian Heneger’s AirPods as he sat in the grass outside the Olathe District Activity Center locker rooms. Tonight they would play Olathe North. 

Parents awkwardly scattered the stands. A few lone claps and then silence, but the boys weren’t relying on the parents for cheers. They had become a student section of their own.

Despite their energy going into the game, the final score was 52-7. For the third time, out of four games played this season, the boys would walk away brutally defeated. The sideline cheers were dead. 

“It’s was really quiet going home,” junior Breck McGuire said. “You can just feel that everyone’s really upset.”

The season wasn’t going as planned— they all knew it —but at least they were playing, which hadn’t been a promise because of COVID-19.

On Aug. 24 a crowd of uniformed teenage boys chanted “Let us play” outside of the Center for Academic Achievement, while inside the student board decided whether or not fall sports would take place. 

COVID-19 had taken away the normality of in-person school and weekend get-togethers with friends and family, but the players refused to let it take away their game.

“People definitely were riled up,” Heneger said. “You could see how serious everyone was because we knew it was our only way of getting to keep football.”

Football was an escape for the boys. The glare of the stadium lights and the crisp fall air meant a break from school, from friends and from real life. It was a shot at feeling unstoppable. A chance to release the stress of the day by tackling another boy with no consequences. But to taking that chance had also, unfortunately, meant accepting the risk of being stopped themselves.

“I’d rather have a season and lose,” McGuire said. “Than not have a season at all.”

Maintaining a good attitude didn’t come easy. With more losses than wins, the boys were feeling discouraged, but they were thankful to even be on the field.

Starting each of their games with a team huddle and a speech given by a different teammate every week put everyone in a good mood. Senior Sammy Jones took his turn to speak on senior night. 

“I just talked about how the seniors should soak it all in,” Jones said. “I told everyone to play every second like it’s your last.”

At the end of Jones’s speech, he swung the team sledgehammer, which commenced running onto the field and starting the game. At that moment, spirits were high and they clung to any hope they had of a victory. 

“It’s hard to stay hype when we aren’t doing the best,” McGuire said. “But if we just push through it and stay positive it brings up the energy of the team as a whole.”

The bus ride home was silent after the loss against Olathe North. The boys held their gaze on the dark windows or on the dirty laces of their cleats. None of them liked a loss, but they were still playing the game they loved and that’s all that mattered to them.