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As I stood on the soggy gridiron at Whitley County High School last Friday night, trying not to sink into one of the numerous puddles that had formed on the gnarled up turf, I glanced around at the faces of those young men with tears streaming down their faces.

Of course, the tears were washed away by the torrential downpour that blanketed the chilly night, made even more miserable by the fact that South Laurel had just lost, 48-0, to Whitley County, thus eliminating them from the post season.

Still, you could tell from the expression on their faces that they were indeed crying, and it was a very moving sight. The sadness welled-up in their eyes, especially the seniors, who came to the realization that, for many, it was the last time they would play the sport that they love.

Quarterback Ricky Bowling, trying to stand alone in the record books, saw those hopes washed away by a smothering Colonel defense, aptly nicknamed “The Red Storm.” Bowling, with two injured fingers on his left hand, and a badly injured thumb on his throwing hand, still battled until the final whistle, not only with dreams of throwing that elusive touchdown to separate himself from the legendary Tim Couch, but with thoughts of somehow, miraculously rallying his troops and if not pulling off a win, at least making the final score a little more respectable.

Bowling hugged teammates, coaches and his father, Rick, as the heavens continued to unleash their fury on those hearty souls still brave enough to be out on a night like this. I’m sure many (especially myself), were ready to call it a night, yet no one seemed ready to depart.

While Whitley County celebrated briefly before retreating into the comfort of their locker room, the Cardinal players stayed, huddled around coach Jason Chappell, as he told them how much he loved each and every one of them. And you know what, I believed him. Many a coach might have called his team off the field, to get out of the weather. But on this night, under a sheet of rain, Chappell remained, soaked, emotionally telling his team how much he loved them.

And the rain continued to fall.

Harder and harder.

Yet these players, and some fans, family and one foolish sports reporter, remained. Many had umbrellas. Some just raincoats. All drenched beyond belief.

The players continued to hug, console, and comfort each other. The coaches tried their best to put a positive spin on what was indeed the cruelest of cruel.

And another life lesson was learned, whether these kids realized it or not. Not everybody wins. Not everybody breaks records. Not everybody goes home happy. Sometimes dreams die on a water-logged field in a southern Kentucky town.

It’s what those kids take home from that loss that is sometimes more important than what is gained from a win.

It might not seem like it now, but check back with me in a few years. I’m sure you’ll see things a lot differently.

Denis House can be reached at sports@sentinel-echo.com.





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