CHARLIE BERGMANN: Caravan Creates Goodwill Along Route, Game
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Supporters of Pinecrest football had a grand time Friday night, helping a group of athletes they see as winners even though the record doesn't show it.
Led by organizers Mike Martin and Eric Baker, a caravan of cars and buses transported people to Fayetteville for the game against Terry Sanford.
Martin calls the event just the start of an effort to help change the fortunes of the football program through increased community support.
"I'm ecstatic," Martin said of the turnout of about 40 vehicles, including two buses provided by the school. "We're going to take this to the next level -- fill the stadium at Pinecrest next Friday night."
He was touched by an older couple that had never been to a Pinecrest game, but saw the article about the caravan in the newspaper. They responded to the call for support. Before getting in the line of cars, one of them handed Martin a check for the Sunday Patriot Booster Club luncheon they would not be able to attend.
Less than a week ago the school was studying whether to forfeit the rest of the season because of a shortage of varsity players. The team went into Friday's game with an 0-3 record.
It felt like being part of a parade when the caravan pulled away from the school campus at about 6 p.m.
For 1971 Pinecrest graduate Larry Solomon, it brought back memories of a caravan of cars that traveled to Laurinburg in 1970 to watch the new school's first football game.
People along Morganton Road all the way to Memorial Field in Southern Pines held "Go Patriot" signs and green and gold balloons as they waved at vehicles with Pinecrest Patriot flags attached to the windows.
Police officers paved the way through each intersection. One officer ushering the caravan through at the intersection of May and Indiana streets in Southern Pines couldn't help breaking out into a smile at the sight of enthusiastic students cheering and waving flags from the buses.
When the entourage reached the intersection at N.C. 211, a police officer was still waving the vehicles through. The last of the "Go Patriot " signs appeared by the railroad tracks near the Hoke County line.
The sudden arrival of a large number of people caused a logjam at the visitors' gate at Terry Sanford. One of those who said he was having a good time was jayvee football player Connor Neville.
"They supported us last night," he said, referring to the junior varsity game, "so we'll have to support them for their game. Hopefully, they'll get a win tonight."
Waiting to greet the Patriot fans as they came through the gate was Terry Sanford Principal Diane Antolak.
"I think it's a tremendous statement by that community that they got together and brought a whole caravan over here," she said at halftime. "It's a terrific part of what football is all about -- bringing a community together."
As the clock wound down on the first half, many of the Patriot fans stood up and cheered the effort of their team even though the scoreboard read 34-0 in favor of the home team. Others looked deflated.
"The football team is not quitting and the fans aren't quitting," Martin said. "There are a few people that are disappointed, but we're here win or lose."
It's one of the jobs of cheerleaders like the Patriots' Ashley Thornton to help keep the spirits of the players and the fans up.
"Oh, my gosh, it was so much fun," she said of being involved in the caravan. "The whole way to Fayetteville we were cheering out of the bus. It really got us pumped up and I think it helped the players."
During the intermission, John Buchholz, Patriot athletic director, was seen listening in on a conversation between Martin and cheerleading coaches Gayle Mace and Sueanne Jones. The subject was the holding of a community pep rally for the football team in the near future.
"It's 'Call to Arms Phase II,'" Martin said with a grin.
The final score of the game was 41-0.
A night that began with concern about a facing a bigger and more experienced team with double the number of players, came out just about as well as it could for the Patriots under the circumstances. Two of the Patriot players appeared to have suffered concussions.
Terry Sanford Coach Wayne Inman was a good host, too, putting almost all of his reserves on the field and allowing the clock to run in the second half.
Off to a 4-1 start, he is on the brink of turning around a program that had reached the depths of where Pinecrest is before he took over in 2004.
After Friday's game he said that his community had been starved to return to the winning tradition it enjoyed during periods of the 1980s and 1990s.
People like Martin and Patriot football booster leader Tom Benton are looking for the community to step up now. They think Friday's support of the caravan is a good start.
"I think it's the first time in 20 years that I've seen the kind of spirit we have tonight," Benton said. "We're in Fayetteville and you look around and see people with green hair to support the Patriots.
"The kids are trying as hard as they can and they need the support of everyone. This is a beginning."
The organized manner in which Pinecrest Resourse Officer Paul Goins and his staff, and the Southern Pines Police Department and Moore County Sheriff's office coordinated the traffic for the caravan was impressive. So was the role played by the Pinecrest cheerleaders.
I'm picturing in my mind, as an election day approaches, a few years down the line, that next to kissing a baby, professing support of Pinecrest football is a must for prospective office holders.
Businesses will be putting "I Support the Patriots" posters in their windows, because it will mean a little more cha-ching at the cash register.
And Martin and Benton are speaking before the Pinehurst Town Council, lobbying for approval to allow "Patriot Country" signs on front lawns.
Charlie Bergmann can be reached at email@example.com
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