High School Football – “Dear Commodores,”

This is not your typical postgame Perry Central column here on Bluegrass Sports Nation. I take my job as a columnist seriously and do my best to give you folks something to read that’s void of any personal opinions and just let the coaches and players do the talking while I connect the dots. This week I am taking a different approach. Sometimes the stats don’t tell the story. There are weeks when the scoreboard may declare a winner and loser, but
the game lingers on. This is one of those weeks. So instead of numbers and quotes jammed into an article, I’m penning a letter.

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Dear Commodores,
 
I have been a Commodore football fan for about as long as the program has started. I can remember when I reached the fifth grade at Dennis Wooton Elementary and our teacher let us play on the old football field during recess. It was a BIG deal for us. One of my classmates had braces on his teeth and opted for red and black “PCC” braces. It sounds stupid, but I was actually jealous of my buddy’s crooked teeth for a while.
 
Following sports around Eastern Kentucky – specifically, Perry Central –  has evolved into a labor of love for me. The kid who coveted the crooked teeth is now in the press box every Friday night calling the action on the radio, writing pregame and postgame columns for Bluegrass Sports Nation and interning with the district’s athletic department working on social media for all the school’s sports teams. It’s a busy life and my wife tells me I run myself ragged, but I can’t seem to help myself.
 
Friday night, after the game clock hit all zeroes and Harlan County celebrated a district championship at Commodore Field, my radio partner Devin asked me a question. 
 
“Are you okay, man?” 
 
The feeling of déjà vu hit me quickly as my mind raced back to the last game of the 2017 season at Southwestern. We finished up the radio broadcast that night and made the long drive back from Somerset relatively early. It was probably after midnight when my phone rang and I looked down to see Devin calling me. He wanted to ask a simple question.
 
“Are you okay, man?”
 
I remember hanging up the phone after a short conversation and my wife asking what it was about, as any wife would ask after a late-night phone call. I told her Devin was asking if I was okay because he thought I wasn’t acting like myself. She didn’t have to think too long before she quipped back.
 
“He’s just not been around you after Perry Central loses.”
 
That exchange tells you a lot about my relationship with Commodore football. I’ve been with you guys through a lot of highs and a lot of lows over the years. The highs are always a treat and everyone readily embraces them, but the way we respond when we face the lows really determines who we are.
 
I can remember the first year I went to every Commodore home game. It was 2000 and I was there for every minute of every game. And we lost them all. Every. Single. Game. Most of them weren’t even close, but we had a group of guys who would run through a wall and wanted to get better. I remember in 2002 when Coach Bert Browne fired up all of the students at a pep rally and gave us the opportunity to ride a school bus to Rockcastle County for “the best game in the state” that Friday. Rock had really outclassed us the year before but we were better and I believed we were going to witness history. Well, it’s a long ride back from Mount Vernon on a school bus after Tom Larkey and the Rockets beat you 54-0. That was the first time I ever remember losing sleep over a game.
 
You needed two things to happen to win that elusive district title Friday night: beat Harlan County and for Whitley to defeat Letcher Central. Harlan County won 40-14 and Whitley gave up 21 unanswered points to lose their game, 21-20. It was exactly the opposite of what you needed. A Pulaski County upset of Southwestern will send the Commodores across the Hal Rogers Parkway to take on the Warriors in the playoffs. When it rains it pours.
 
But after I packed up from Friday night’s game, I drove home and didn’t have time to mope around the house. My daughter was up at midnight waiting to see me and wanted to try on her cowgirl outfit for Halloween. While I have always had a lot invested in what happens at the football field on Friday night, my life is a lot bigger than that. And while a tough night on the gridiron is never something you look forward to, it makes the moments with a little girl waving plastic guns at 1 a.m. all the more special.
 
The Commodore class that started off as freshmen going  0-10 and gave up more than 100 unanswered points to Rockcastle in back-to-back years are not defined by those moments. Those guys were part of Perry Central’s first-ever winning season in 2002. They passed the ball to the next class of kids who were the first to have a winning record against Hazard in the Black Gold Bowl (which should still be played every year). They built things up so we could earn our first home playoff game in 2007, and those guys handed the ball to the Commodores who won the first playoff game in 2011. The ball is in your hands now.
 
Sure, we all get together and talk about the Rockcastle disasters or when Hazard beat Perry Central on a last-second pass the final time that rivalry was lived out on the football field. But do you know what else Commodores talk about? We talk about the time Brandon Willis laid the hardest hit in history on a Knox Central wide receiver after an interception and the crowd and band got so loud the police had to tell everyone to calm down. We talk about out-slinging the gunslingers of Clay County in 2007 after Jordan Amis sealed a 68-57 victory with a 60-yard touchdown run. We talk about the time we went over to Johnson Central and handed them a loss after all the local experts wrote us off.
 
Embrace the great moments, Commodores. Learn from the tough ones. This one stings, but your story is still being written.
 
Give em’ hell at Southwestern.
 
Sincerely,
Nathan Lyttle