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COLUMN: Amazing Alberton Panthers

by CHUCK BANDEL
Valley Press | September 27, 2023 12:00 AM

It felt like I just watched a classic John Wayne movie, where he fights to the bitter end and is remembered as a hero.

Now, this isn’t war and there were no bombs going off, other than a few long football passes.

But after watching the Alberton Panthers six-player football team battle White Sulphur Springs to the bitter end, I came to the conclusion that if it were a war, anyone one of these Panthers would be a welcome addition to my battlefield foxhole.

These guys have been battling long odds all year. Most of the time they have had just one substitute on their sidelines. Their opening game of the year saw them play most of the second half with the bare minimum six players.

They had a game postponed because they did not have enough healthy players to travel to Hot Springs. That game was played the two Mondays later, just three days after a lopsided loss to another conference foe.

Yet there they were. Young boys becoming men right in front of our eyes.

No quit in these Panthers when I dare say many others would have waved the white flag.

This is desire to play football at the highest level.

This past Saturday, they traveled to White Sulphur Springs to take on the Hornets in a conference game. They entered the game 0-4 and exited the game 0-5.

But that is not the story.

The story is a small, but hardy group of young men donning the pads and playing to the final whistle.

Along the way in the WSS game, they scored a pair of touchdowns in a season where points have been a rarity.

The second touchdown was scored on a nice pass from sophomore quarterback Shea Fredette to 5-2 junior Hunter Ray. The duo also hooked up on a pass for the point after touchdown. On both plays, Ray came up with what appeared to be a shoulder injury, his arm dangling by his side.

But he kept playing.

So did Fredette, who late in the game got off the ground and limped around on an injured leg. He did not leave the game.

To a man, this team has more heart than most teams ever get.

Head coach Jon Richards, a former Griz, has created a sports anomaly. No quit here. Put me in coach, I can still play.

And this is a team with zero seniors on the roster, playing just their second year of varsity football without being affiliated with another school.

Their season opening roster listed three juniors, six sophomores and two freshmen, although Tater Herman is listed twice and what are the odds of two guys named “Tater” on the roster?

These guys will get better. No doubt about it.

Heart like this makes up for lack of numbers. It overcomes crushing defeats, and it keeps getting up and punching back.

My hat is off to the Alberton Panthers.

You guys are what the game is all about. You are learning, perhaps the hard way, what persistence and guts can do.

Keep fighting dudes. This world could use more guys like you!