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Let me start off by introducing myself to everyone who does not know me.
My name is Ronnie McGill. I grew up in Clover when football was getting to its highest peak in years. I played four years for Clover’s varsity team, then went on to play football at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.
I tore my knee up during my final season and never made it to the NFL as a player. I worked for the Tennessee Titans for a year and I have been employed with the New England Patriots for the past three years as a scout. That’s just a quick rundown about me just so you know where I’m coming from.
I do not get back to Clover very often because my job is really demanding. It is nearly impossible for me to get to Clover during football games because I am busiest during the season and I just can’t travel.
Recently, I was finally able to get back to South Carolina for a weekend, which I had planned to use to catch up with college friends that I haven’t seen in four or five years.
That all got put on the back burner after I decided to surprise my brother at the high school.
He is a guidance counselor and he normally does a really good job of keeping me in the loop with how things are going. I knew all about the scandal from two years ago and understood that it would affect things around there to a degree.
But…what I saw was on a totally different level that I was not expecting.
I was not going to write anything to anyone or try to make my voice heard, but I spent all weekend and my entire trip back to the New England thinking about how bad things are…and more importantly what I felt that Friday night.
My visit to the high school started off like any surprise visit would. I crept in and surprised my brother. No big deal but then he gave me a list of teachers who wanted to see me so we ventured around the school. And now that I think back on it, the day didn’t feel like the Clover-York days that I remember. There was not any buzz, and the excitement was just not there.
It wasn’t until I got back into his office when I sat down and read an article on how the older players were dealing with the season that I started to feel just how down and out all the players were. I already had intentions of coming back to the high school and talk to the players because my good friend, Tony Cook, had mentioned that the players would really appreciate it. But after reading the article, I decided to stick around for the Pep Rally and show a little bit of support.
I was at a tough angle when I first got to the rally so it was tough to see the court. From where I was standing, I could only see around 20 players run onto the court to start the rally off. I thought that was all the seniors until I got into the gym and found out that the little bit of players I saw was the actual team.
Then I looked around the gym and there were way more students than any year that I ever went to Clover; and only about one-third the number of players despite having record numbers.
The worst part was the fact that some guys in the stands and on the court looked just as athletic than some of the kids wearing the jerseys. There were kids who looked like they should be playing on the team but they were just trying to look cool in the stands.
Then things got worse when the Pep Rally was over and it actually came time to talk to the young guys.
I had no idea what to say. It was tough because I have been around A LOT of football and I can say that I have never been a part of anything similar to what they have gone through. One of the worst sports allegations that I have ever heard to hit a high school, not having enough kids to have a 9th grade teams, bringing in a new coach who did nothing to help the spirits of the players, losing that coach during the middle of the following season, all while not winning one game. Not even losing, but getting blown out week in and week out.
It was really somber in there when I got up to speak. You could see in their eyes that they have been through a lot. Some of them looked like they would just be glad when it was over. There was not a lot of excitement. I have talked to plenty of kids around the Clover area about doing right in school and as a football but this time I was at a loss of words.
So I told them what came to my heart.
I told them that I was extremely proud of each and every one of them.
I, just like a lot of people around the town, knew that they were probably not going to win the game….but that wasn’t the point.
The point was to encourage these kids that not giving up when things are tough will get you farther in life than not ever trying. My point was not to motivate them to win a game but to support them, show them that winning is not always the most important result and that even in some defeats you can still be a winner.
I am not proud of losing nor do I not want to be a part of losing. But I am proud of these young men for sticking it out and doing what no one else dared do, I will encourage them to keep fighting when their backs are against the wall, and I do appreciate when the underdog does not let the weight of the world hold him down. They could have easily quit and no one would have said a word. They could do a lot of things differently and I’m sure no one would bat an eye. But they didn’t.
For two years, they gave every ounce of energy that the State Championship team gave. They went through the same summer heat that South Pointe or York went through. They have played in the same cold and wet weather that I played in, that Rob Wallace played in, and that every one of your friends played in. But they did it without the full support of everyone around them.
For that, they should not be embarrassed. They have put it all on the line every day for two years despite having anything to play for and without the complete support of a community.
Those young men have gone through more than some of us can only imagine. Has it deterred them from playing and representing Clover High School? Not one bit. They have done so with class and the heart of champions.
If you think it is hard to support them, then try being the one wearing the jersey on Friday. Everyone knows that it is not easy but without the support of a town…it could get a lot worse before it gets better.
Then I witnessed a teenager crying after a game where they were heavily outnumbered and outmatched; that shows me that those young men still care and they are not quitters….and they do not deserve to be quit on.