Just 301 days ago I was sitting in the parking lot near the Watertown-Mayer football field. The game was over but the lights were still shinning. At least for a little bit.
It was the end of the fall sports season and not in a normal way. Due to rising cases of COVID-19 that fall, the plug was pulled on the entire fall sports season just like that.
Flash forward to Friday night and the story couldn’t have been more opposite.
As I walked into the new stadium at W-M High School, I knew this night would be an exciting one. I had no idea how special it would be. I had no idea how much it would blow me away.
Covering the W-M football team has been an interesting endeavor throughout my time at Herald Journal. To be honest, there hasn’t been much to cover.
Coming into last season, the Royals have won just three games in the five seasons I covered them. After snapping their long losing streak last year, I was curious what this year might bring for the Royals. I wasn’t expecting this.
Over the years of cover this team, games for W-M were decided in the first three or four minutes. In all reality, I had maybe half a quarter to try and get a good picture before the game got out of hand.
Then came the co-op discussion. I vividly remember sitting in the W-M school board meeting while parents, players, coaches, school board members, and community members talked things out about joining Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted in a co-op to help save two struggling football programs.
Full disclosure, I was 100 percent for going forward with the co-op. It seemed like the best move for both programs to keep their programs going and give them a chance to grow and then go off on their own.
In that meet, the head coach for the Royals Andrew Phillips asked the board and community members to give him a chance. He simply asked for a chance to turn things around.
Phillips knew this wouldn’t be a quick fix, but his dedication to the program along with his staff were determined to turn things around.
It took time. There were bad losses. There were ugly games.
Last year, there was a bit of light shining as the Royals won two games – the most they’ve won since 2016. Flash forward to 2021 and the Royals are a perfect 3-0 through their first three games of the season.
Walking into the new stadium Friday night, there was something different in the air. Of course, there was excitement about the new stadium. There was something else going on. Something special.
That something was the community and football team at Watertown-Mayer.
I’ll be honest, covering the W-M football team over the past few years hasn’t been all that fun. There’s only so much you can write about blowout losses and moral victories each week. Friday night’s game against Albany and everything that comes with it has an endless amount of words.
Midway through the third quarter, I could sense the Royals were going to win this game. As packed house cheering on their home team screamed with every play, things started to hit me. There was something special going on. This was one of the coolest moments I’ve been a part of in my sports writing career.
I’ll admit, I was starting to get a little emotional on the sidelines. The student section was incredible. The new stadium was top-notch. The players were locked in. It was everything people love about high school sports.
It’s a moment that hasn’t happened too often at a W-M football game over the past few years. It’s a moment that I’ll remember for a long time.
Over the past month or so, I’ve taken a lot more responsibilities at the paper being the lone sports editor. Throughout that month, there have been times where I’ve debated whether or not this is something I really want to keep doing.
I’m working 60-70 hours per week. I’m hardly home at night to see my girlfriend or even have time to just sit a relax. I was just getting tired. I kept trying to think of reasons to keep with it.
Friday night gave me the biggest and best reason. Friday night is everything that high school sports should be. Take it from someone who hasn’t played high school sports in more than 10 years now. I still get chills walking into a gym or on the field to cover a game. I love high school sports. I love everything that comes with them. There might not be the best athlete or the top team on the field or court every time, but there’s something special about watching kids learn and grow while competing alongside their friends.
High school sports are special. Friday night was special. It’s the friends in the stands cheering on their classmates. It’s the younger kids taking in the game dreaming of when it will be their chance to play. It’s the parents who sat through every blowout loss throughout the years and now are experiencing wins. It’s the coaching staff who stay dedicated to their players even when the results weren’t there. It’s the W-M school staff. It’s the community of Watertown.
Friday night was your night, Watertown. Enjoy it. You’ve earned it. You deserve it.
Thanks for letting me be a small part of it.