Panthers on prowl for state title

Published 7:50 pm Friday, December 3, 2010

Of course young students would be excited at the prospect oftheir school playing for a state championship in football.

But at Brookhaven High School, even the teachers have gonemad.

“The teachers are just as excited – we just can’t show it asmuch,” said Mandy Vinson.

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Vinson, who educates ninth- and 10th-grade students in the waysof English, has ratcheted up her school spirit this week inanticipation of the South State champion Panthers meeting the WestPoint Green Wave in the class 5A state championship. The gamebegins in Jackson’s Veterans Memorial Stadium Saturday night.

The coming confrontation takes Vinson – a member of Brookhaven’sClass of 2003 – back to fond memories not too long ago, when heryounger classmates achieved the state’s highest football honor bywinning the state title in 2004. If this year’s team is going tograb hold of similar greatness at week’s end, there has to besimilar enthusiasm beforehand, she believes.

“I remember all the excitement that was here in 2004, and how itis now. The pep rallies when we were in high school were like anhour-and-one-half long, so we want it to be exciting for thisyear’s students, too,” Vinson said. “They’ll remember it 20 yearsdown the road.”

To make it happen, Vinson and her fellow teachers stepped up andpoured on ideas for Friday’s grand pep rally, which featuredblow-the-doors-off enthusiasm like the Panther band’s drumlinemarching down the halls, senior football players gettingembarrassed in front of everybody with kisses from their proudmothers and much, much screaming and hollering.

And teachers and students who aren’t the usual ringleaders,those who normally don’t get up quite as high for football, are theones who helped put the big celebration together.

It’s happened to everybody, said BHS Principal Dr. JaySmith.

“The mood is festive. We’ve got T-shirts being printed and soldas quick as we can. Cheerleaders have been painting signs all week.The band is getting prepared,” he said.

For Smith, who’s been a principal for 15 years at three schools,this will be the first time an institution under his leadership hasbeen to a state championship event. He’s proud of his students, buthe’s also got an eye toward the benefits for Brookhaven as awhole.

“It’s exciting because the notoriety the school receives off thehard work of the players and coaches is immeasurable. Not only doesit bring notoriety to the school, but to the community as well,” hesaid. “Everybody in the state will know Brookhaven is in the statechampionship. That’s a big deal.”

It’s a big deal for Shelby Case, a 16-year-old sophomorecheerleader, who couldn’t quite find the right words to describethe anticipation that’s fallen over everyone at BHS.

“We just all feel it,” she said. “I don’t know how to explainit.”

Anticipation for some is butterflies for others, none moresothan the football players. E.J. Henderson, a 17-year-oldpunt-returner for the Panthers, feels his nerves.

“It’s like a dream, but I’ve got to stay level – remember whatI’m trying to get to,” he said.

Michael Curtis, a 17-year-old sophomore who plays free safetyfor the squad, said the team has something to prove after playingthe underdog role through three playoff wins.

“Everybody thinks we shouldn’t be here, that we just got lucky.We’ve got a chip on our shoulder,” he said. “We’ve got to provewe’re supposed to be here.”