The Harrison Central Huskies went on the road last Friday and posted a cherished victory against a talented Caldwell squad.
All sorts of emotions were spewing after the game for the Huskies, who had to rally in the fourth quarter for a 43-33 victory.
"It was weird because after the game, as excited as we were, a lot of kids were crying for both the good and the bad," said Huskies' head coach Justin Kropka.
PICTURED IS the wristband that students and teachers are wearing at Harrison Central to honor the late Jimmy Cameron, who passed away last week.
No one would expect anything less after taking a step back and thinking about the week that the Huskies' football family, along with the entire Harrison Central school district, had endured.
The Huskies' players and coaches are still trying to come to grips with the passing of 15-year-old sophomore Jimmy Cameron, who succumbed to a brief illness a little more than a week ago.
"Some days, I think it affects us more than others," Kropka admitted. "It's a tough thing, and I don't think people realize how tough it is to get a bunch of kids focused. I am sure the kids are a wreck because I know I am."
The Huskies went back to work Monday and practiced each day. They went to the funeral home as a team where Cameron's mother addressed the many members of the team individually.
Several players were in tears before practice and Kropka gave them the option to miss that day's workout, but each player went through the entire week of practice.
"The fact that we didn't have a kid miss practice all week tells you something about how well these kids have come together," Kropka said. "We don't have big numbers. We're a small group, but we've been there for each other."
Harrison Central students have remembered their classmate and friend by wearing yellow bracelets with the words "Jimmy Cameron" written on them. Each member of the team and football coaching staff also has one, but because of uniform rules none wore them during Friday's game.
"We wear the bands in school," Kropka said. "It's been a rallying point because everything in the school has a #68 on it."
Just in time for the game, the Huskies did put #68 stickers on their helmets, which will remain there for the balance of the season.
On behalf of the entire Harrison Central football program, Kropka expressed his sincere appreciation to Caldwell and its coaching staff and administration. A moment of silence was observed prior to the game last Friday.
"Caldwell was a total class act," Kropka said. "Every single coach came up to us and told us how sorry they were and we really appreciated that."
Kropka doesn't plan on shying away from talking about Jimmy Cameron for the remainder of the season.
"It needs to be talked about," Kropka said. "I am going to address it, and I'm not afraid to talk about it. It's not taboo. It's okay to laugh and joke and remember Jimmy for everything that was good about him. It's definitely okay to have positive memories."
The Huskies, who are 2-1 now on the season, have been on an "emotional roller coaster" all season according to their coach.
In their first scrimmage, junior Rasheen Mitchell was sidelined for an extended period of time with an elbow injury. However, that pales in comparison to the latest circumstances.
"Everytime it seems like there's no possible way to win and all of the odds are stacked against us, we seem to come together," Kropka said. "They say the team takes on the personality of its coach, but if I ever have half as much guts as these kids have shown than I am a much better man than I ever thought I would be."
There were points in the game last Friday when Kropka saw the emotions of his players and almost broke down himself.
"Not a lot gets to me," Kropka said. "There was so much emotion running through our team and it's tough to keep it together, because you have to think analytically as you call plays and things, so it was tough."
Huskies' senior Austin Schurr scored a late touchdown and immediately pointed toward the sky, acknowledging Cameron's presence and saluting his fallen teammate.
"We were sobbing after the game because we all knew who this (game) was for," Kropka said.
Kropka also is planning on instituting the "Jimmy Cameron Memorial Award" which will be presented following the season. He has not finalized all of the details of the award, other than it will be presented annually.
"When someone tells me high school sports don't matter, they need to see what we've been dealing with and how we've dealt with it," Kropka said.
The Huskies will carry Cameron's jersey with them onto the field at Martins Ferry Friday and for the remainder of the season.
Staskey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org