SHANE SHOEMAKER – Sports Writer
Last Tuesday evening, vehicles filled the parking lot of Marion County High School and lined Warrior Drive as a community came together in unity, adorned in purple, to celebrate some of the young athletes from the city of Jasper’s schools in the annual “Warriors Under the Lights”.
The event took place at Bill Baxter Stadium, where the home side bleachers and track below it were filled with people from all across the community as they were there to watch band members, cheerleaders, coaches and football teams from the 5U division age group all the way up to the high school level come together as Warriors for one special night. Over the last several years, this event has been used as a vehicle to mark the kickoff for the upcoming football season for all the Jasper area teams.
“Tonight, we not only celebrated each football player, band member, coach, cheerleader and each team from Little League, middle school and high school, but it was also about our community,” Marion County high school boys basketball Head Coach Nick Pickett said, whose son, Tilton, is starting quarterback for the Warriors high school team and daughter, Avah, is a cheerleader. “As a fan and a lifelong resident of Jasper, to walk and see the home side filled from one end of the bleachers to the other lets everyone know that the community is behind the football programs and Marion is a wonderful place to be.”
Although there wasn’t a single ball being thrown in the air or kicked through the uprights on this night, the stadium was just as loud and supportive, full of Warrior pride.
One by one, each Warrior member, starting with the youngest age group, entered the field – some running, some walking, others choosing the alternative option of flipping and contorting their bodies in the air as they came up to the home side of the field while their names were being called across the loud speaker – on what was a rather comfortable August evening, reminiscent of what a Friday night in the fall will soon resemble.
“It’s refreshing for me to see – even as somebody not being associated with any kind of anything – from the outside looking in, just seeing how many people are willing to volunteer their time in the community to make something so special for the kids,” Adam Brown said, whose two sons Gunner and Sawyer play little league football. “…There were so many people that I saw here that didn’t have a kid they were kin to – at any level of that. They were just in the community coming out to support the future of where we live. And that’s something bigger than football.”
The sense of pride and joy from parents similar to Brown and Pickett were celebrated throughout the evening with endless pictures taken and cheers given, as the field turned into a sea full of purple uniforms stretching from nearly one endzone to the other as the kids posed, laughed and even offered silly faces.
Ultimately, Brown and Pickett know how important this coming together is each year for all the teams and the community, as it can be used as a springboard for the future of the Marion County football program as a whole.
“Stuff like “Warriors Under the Lights” makes kids hungry from a young age,” Brown said.
By starting at an early age, Brown believes that the impact from an event like “Warriors Under the Lights” allows the youngest age groups to interact with all the other age groups, including the high school players, who they can watch, learn and emulate. The event therefore becomes beneficial from the standpoint of building tradition early on and will not only ingrain kids into the Marion County school system, but keep them there.
“It builds tradition. It gets the kids hungry for tradition. It gets them in the whole atmosphere,” Brown said. “They [his two sons] know Sam Pickett’s name, they know Tilton Pickett’s name. They know their number, and they look up to them. I think that’s really, really important, you know, building a program from the top to the bottom like that.”
As the last name was called, a collective group of Warriors were all finally gathered together, with a fan base eagerly awaiting the season to begin, as it was all but a signal that it’s football time in Jasper.