Tonight the Whitwell Tigers will host cross-county rival South Pittsburg with the title in Region 3-A on the line. This is not new for South Pittsburg. The Pirates have been one of the premier football programs in our area and the entire state of Tennessee for many years. It is a new big deal for Whitwell. Up until a couple of years ago, the Tigers were the doormat in Marion County football for Marion County High School and South Pittsburg. Both Marion County and the Pirates have won multiple state championships through the last three decades. The Marion County-South Pittsburg rivalry is the oldest, most intense rivalry in Tennessee. A book has even been written about that grudge-filled rivalry.
Now, Whitwell High School is in the spotlight with South Pittsburg and the Tigers and their fans are loving it.
A more than capacity crowd will be on hand at Earl Condra Stadium and Vernon Holtcamp field this evening for the match up. Folks who are going to the game have had their tickets purchased for several days and I wouldn't be surprised if some fans are already at the stadium waiting for the gates to open. Excitement is at a fever pitch in that little coal-mining community and all I can say is, it's about time.
The Tigers have had success in other sports, with girls' softball coming to mind. Whitwell has made several trips to the State Championsip playoffs but they've never won the big one. The school's fishing team has also done very well and even a few football and basketball teams have enjoyed a modicum of success over the years. But this is football; the lifeline for every school's athletic department. The sport that can bring a school and its community together quicker than anything else. Coach Randall Boldin has created an excitement with his team that has been like no other team ever.
I was a resident of Whitwell, Tennessee for twenty-five years. I loved my time there and my two children grew up there. We went through good times and bad while living in the beautiful Sequatchie Valley and I remember how tight-knit the community was. When our house burned in 1978, people gathered around us, helped us and supported us when we needed them most. In 1981 when thirteen coal miners lost their lives in a terrible explosion my wife Shelia and I got to witness first hand how a loving community can draw together and show love and support for their neighbors. In 2018 that community is drawing and pulling together again in a different and happier way.
What's at stake here is home field advantage for the post-season. The winner of this game will host the other team later in the playoffs. There is no doubt in anyone's mind the Tigers and Pirates will battle it out again, with the winner having a great shot at a state championship. I won't be in attendance this evening as I will be broadcasting another football game on radio. But I will be aware of the score and even though I have friends in both towns, I can't help but pull at least a little bit for Whitwell. The Tigers deserve it.
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Randy Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org