Last academic year was a yawn for most Springfield High School students, as the deadly worldwide COVID-19 pandemic deprived them of many traditions that teenagers typically experience during that stage of their lives.
The year was filled with restrictions: attendance to football games and other sporting events was limited, some teams’ seasons were shortened and there were no pep rallies or school dances.
However, when the new school year started this fall, many of the restrictions were lifted and traditions returned. There was some sense of normalcy, particularly as the football team parlayed its way to its first-ever state championship game. The Wildcats’ success on the field — they were 13-1 prior to Friday’s contest — drew large crowds.
The energy level was the highest it’s been in nearly two years.
The student cheering section, which consists of seniors, was at every game with cut-out signs of student athletes’ faces and vuvuzela stadium horns — all necessities.
“There’s this growing sense of pride we didn’t have before,” senior Grant Comer, 17, said. “The atmosphere is just great.”
Comer and other senior classmates helped set the tone for the audience each game: loud and cheering when the Wildcats are on defense to serve as a distraction to the rival team, but quiet when Springfield is on offense, giving the team space to focus. This formula has room for a season commonality, though: the student section roars every time the Wildcats make a major play.
The fact that the team played in the state championship game made this year even more sweet — regardless of the outcome. It’s such a highly visible experience, even for those who are not playing in the game, and one that they’ll remember for a lifetime. Days leading up to the Friday night game against Lakewood St. Edward in Canton, the school was abuzz, and the excitement among students was arguably at an all-time high.
Freshman Lily Hatton, 14, was also a member of the student section, as well as a football athletic trainer in training.
“It’s cool to see everyone come together to support the team,” she said. “It brought us all together.”
Springfield’s cheerleaders and drill team — the hype-women of the Wildcats — saw the excitement among the football team build as the season went along.
Varsity cheerleader Jay’Uan Moss, 17, said that she and others in the squad noticed that crowd-involvement, which was “non-existent” last season, returned in full force. She was more excited about this season because high school football traditions such as the use of run-through signs for the team, were back.
“It’s been amazing to see,” she said.
Her classmates, Ayana Runyan, 17, and Megan Pence, 18, who both are members of the school’s drill team, added that the energy went beyond Springfield High School students. In addition to the community showing up to games in support of the team, students from other schools showed up to watch the Wildcats at work.
“Seeing everyone get hyped up, it keeps the spirit alive,” Runyan said.
The Wildcats victory against Cincinnati Archbishop Moeller in the state semifinal on Nov. 26 was a fulfillment of not only the team’s dreams, but another step toward the team’s goal of winning a state championship, said Defensive Tackle Tywan January, 18. The 18-year-old has been playing football since he was a kindergartener.
Much work went into getting to state championship game, said January, who has been playing football since kindergarten. The summer days started off early for the Wildcats as they began training for the fall, with two-a-day practices scheduled throughout the week, he said.
And the hard work certainly paid off.
“The city has never seen anything like this before,” he said. “And that’s who we’re doing this for. We’re going to state to bring it back to the city.”
His teammate, Delian Bradley, 17, expressed similar sentiments. The outpouring of support from the city of Springfield — visible through the send-offs held every time students have departed for away games, through the proud display of blue and yellow across town, the packed stands of shouting fans throughout the fall — has been humbling, he said.
As a senior, it’s Bradley’s last season with the Wildcats.
“It’s like we’re carrying on a legacy,” he said.
His brother, Duncan, 15, said that as a younger player, he has loved seeing the support and hearing the feedback of alumni, particularly past football players.
The Wildcats moved into Friday’s game not with anxiety, but with pride.
“This is our way of paying it forward to the city,” January said. “It’s all for them.”