HONORING THE HOWARDS — Sporting events, as a whole, are rather trivial. Many people seek out games as an escape from reality, if only for a few hours, but there are times when the circumstances surrounding certain matchups bring "real" life to the forefront.
On Saturday afternoon, a nationally televised audience saw pink-clad Georgia fans pack Sanford Stadium. It was due to a grassroots movement to show support for Arkansas State head coach Blake Anderson, following the death of his wife, Wendy, who died just prior to the start of the season after a two-year battle with breast cancer.
Less than 24 hours before the Bulldogs faithful showed their support for a family dealing with loss, fans flooded into Woodland's Wildcat Stadium decked out in baby blue to support their own local family dealing with a tragic death.
Why did Woodland supporters ditch their normal attire and why were several Cass fans wearing a noticeably lighter shade of blue than normal? It was apparently Rhys Howard's favorite color.
On Labor Day, Rhys, the youngest son of Wildcats athletic director John Howard, died in an ATV accident. The death of the 3-year-old understandably affected those at Woodland, but Friday night — in the Wildcats' first home game since the accident — fans showed that even the fiercest of rivalries can be put aside to mourn as a community.
There was understandably less baby blue present Saturday, when the teams completed their game after lightning had forced a suspension. However, there were still some nods to the Howard family on display, including light blue tape wrapped around the right wrist of Cass head coach Bobby Hughes.
"It's not just the Woodland community — it was Bartow County. The Cass fans, the Cass coaching staff and the Cass players were supporting also," Woodland head coach Tony Plott said. "John Howard has been here a long time. He's loved by many. I think very dearly of him. We're here for him and here for his family. I think the county showed they're here for him also."
TWINS RIGHT, TRIPLE OPTION — It’s unlikely that very many of the Adairsville High football fans who made it to Friday’s game at Coahulla Creek noticed, but the first play the Tigers ran in their 35-0 victory carried a little more significance than most.
That’s not because the play was a game-defining one as it pertained to the final result; It was about a 5-yard gain on a quarterback run during a game in which the Tigers had many more explosive plays.
Still, the twins right, triple option out of the I-formation play was a throwback to a play ran nearly a decade ago, and to two coaches whose influence can still be seen on Adairsville’s offense today.
Steve Sparks, a longtime assistant football coach in Northwest Georgia, and a former offensive line coach at AHS, passed away Sept. 7. Sparks was the offensive line coach to former Adairsville offensive coordinator Bill Napier, who died almost two years ago.
Five Adairsville coaches are still with the team and were on the staff then with Sparks and Napier under head coach Jim Kremer — head coach Eric Bishop, Pat Konen, Jon Cudd, Billy Roper and Kurt Scoggins.
As a tribute to Sparks, Adairsville lined up in the I-formation, something uncommon for the current iteration of the Tigers, and ran one of Napier’s and Sparks’ favorite plays to start the game against Coahulla Creek.
“[Sparks and Napier] had a big impact on five of us coaches that were here,” Bishop said of the formation and play call on the first play Friday night. "And when coach Sparks passed away last weekend, and we attended his funeral on Monday, it was actually coach Konen's idea. He said it on text message, and when we met on Sunday, he said, 'I wanna do this.' And he asked if it was all right with me, and I said absolutely. I thought it was a great idea.
“[Sparks and Napier], their whole time, they ran the I-formation under center and they always liked to run the old twins look and triple option to the twins look, and had certain calls that we still use in our offense here from their influence on us.”
The call wasn’t a major departure from what Adairsville has in its current playbook, but running it out of the I-formation with two backs lined up behind the quarterback was a different look for the Tigers.
"It’s kind of a little bit out of our element really to be out of the I-formation,” Bishop said. "What we do is we motion to get to it. But it was just kind of a tribute in their memory to start of the game."
It just so happened that the timing was perfect, as Coahulla Creek’s coach, Caleb Bagley, was a former player under Sparks and Napier.
“We kind of told [Bagley] there was something we were going to do before the game without telling him,” Bishop said. “Because, if I told him what we were going to do, he would have know exactly what was coming. So we did let him in on it to a certain degree, but not totally."