Sunday, December 13, 2009

A Brotherhood of Players

Well, this is the stuff of which movies are made. Yancey County's only high school, Mountain Heritage High School, never ceases to amaze. Approached on a winding, wooded drive after passing the guard house, the beautiful campus looks more like a community college in one of our nation's larger cities than a public high school in a small town in the Appalachian Mountains. From an award-winning drama department, to a campus warehouse where students build a Habitat for Humanity house on-site with help from community volunteers, to crafting bowls for Empty Bowl Benefits for local/world hunger relief, to painting Quilt Trail blocks in art classes to support the Quilt Trails of Western North Carolina non-profit, the students of this small Blue Ridge Mountain school excel in academics, the arts, service, and athletics.

This football story would seem typical of Texas or Oklahoma but not so much for this small enclave of mountain communities outside of Asheville more renowned for internationally and nationally acclaimed artists than athletic powerhouses. A similar underdog story happened not too far from here on one of our college campuses, but this is our high school. The local paper dubs it, "the brotherhood of players." This is from the Yancey Common Times Journal, "Only two years ago, the Cougars suffered through a 0-11 season, one of three winless seasons over the past 10 years. In a seven-year period before the 2008 season, Mountain Heritage had won 13 games, total." This weekend, on December 12, 2009, the Cougars lost in the State Championship game to a team with a 13-1 record. The real story, though, is in the heroic effort of the team that was equalled by the magnanimous support of their hometown citizens. Local law enforcement officials provided a "dignitary's" escort for the busloads of students and players who were followed by a caravan of supporters, parents and fans with MHHS banners flying from their car antennae. Schools, stores, and businesses closed down to follow the team to Chapel Hill for the game of the year. This football program turnaround was envisioned and planned by a coach who "changed the culture of Cougar football" and the players who claim a brotherhood from their days in little league. As one player said, "It's not just about football." This is small-town America at its best - a great heartland story reflective of the adaptive spirit of perseverance and hard work seen through the generations of men and women who have lived here in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina and a school most aptly named - Mountain Heritage.

For slideshow highlights of the championship game:

For award listings including Coach of the Year, Player of the Year and other standouts on this standout team:

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