O say! can you see by the dawn's early light …
By the time they reach high school, most football players have heard the playing of the "Star Spangled Banner" hundreds of times.
But when the participants line up on the sidelines before the games at this weekend's Patriot Classic and remove their helmets and put their hands over their hearts in honor of America, they will not only hear the words of the National Anthem, but will listen to them like never before.
Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Md., is the setting for this inaugural football event involving 12 teams from around the region. And for these players, who were all in elementary school when the worst American disaster of their lifetime occurred, this one will never be forgotten, unlike many of their early childhood memories.
"I remember getting out of school early and my parents telling me there was a tragedy," said DeMatha DE/TE Michael Moore
, who was 7 years old at the time. "We went back to school the next day and teachers were trying to explain what happened and I remember everyone grieving for [the victims]."
Plans are underway at high school stadiums all over America to honor the memories of those killed in 9-11. But it appears the Patriot Classic is the only multi-game event of its kind being held specifically to pay tribute to the anniversary of 9-11 and to honor the men and women who continue to fight for America's freedom in the ongoing wars after the terror attack.
"The idea of the classic began five years ago," said Tony Kennedy, president of Extra Point Productions and founder of the event. "There were no commemorative events in high school athletics that acknowledged the immense role that the Armed Forces play in our lives. Even though the current student-athletes may be too young to vividly recall the events that took place 10 years ago, we want them to understand and acknowledge the impact that the events had on our country, as well as to show respect for the sacrifices made by our soldiers."
The six-game classic kicks off with a doubleheader on Friday when Bishop McNamara (Forestville, Md.)
faces Landon (Bethesda, Md.)
at 5 p.m., followed by DeMatha (Hyattsville, Md.)
playing Calvert Hall (Baltimore)
Prior to the games, each player and coach will have his own personal memory of Sept. 11, 2001. But the one common theme that will be in everyone's minds is a solemn remembrance of, and respect for, everyone involved — victims, their families and friends, and the rescue workers — during that unforgettable day.
"The Anthem will mean more to me than usual because of all the Americans killed in 9-11 and how badly it hurt people and how much of a tragedy it was," said Moore, who has verbally committed to the University of Virginia. "I don't know anyone personally affected by 9-11, but I know it hurt a lot of people directly and indirectly."
The Saturday schedule includes
Potomac (Oxon Hill, Md.)
playing Archbishop Spalding (Severn, Md.)
at 10:45 a.m., Annapolis Area Christian (Severn, Md.)
against Red Lion Christian Academy (Bear, Del.)
at 1:45, and Gonzaga (Washington, D.C.)
vs. St. Joseph's Prep (Philadelphia)
St. Joe's quarterback Skyler Mornhinweg
, who committed to Penn State because of its "old-school mentality," said he relied on a coach to talk him through the events of 9-11. It wasn't his youth football coach, but rather his father, Marty Mornhinweg, who at the time was head coach of the Detroit Lions and now serves as offensive coordinator for the Philadelphia Eagles.
"I was in school and they sent us home early and we didn't know what was going on," said Skyler Mornhinweg, recalling the events from when he was 7 years old. "My mom was distressed and told me people attacked us. I wasn't sure what that meant but I watched the news. I remember getting angry but was so young I couldn't make much sense of it. I kept asking myself, 'Why would they do this?' And then my dad came home early and we talked about it together as a family."
The most anticipated game of the Patriot Classic takes place Saturday night when two national powers, Gilman (Baltimore)
and Our Lady of Good Counsel (Olney, Md.)
, kick off at 7:45.
Gilman actually had a game scheduled in Brooklyn against Poly Prep on the weekend of the tragedy. The game was postponed, but a few weeks later when the team traveled to New York to play the re-scheduled game, the coaches and players saw firsthand the devastation of 9-11. It's an experience the program as a whole has never forgotten.
"We actually talk about it every year on this anniversary weekend," said Gilman assistant coach Henry Russell, who was a student at the Naval Academy when 9-11 occurred. "The coaches will talk about that experience of being in New York after the tragedy and show a video commemorating the events as part of our game preparation. I know our entire team is honored to be part of the inaugural Patriot Classic."
The feelings and emotions of players, coaches and fans alike will vary from field to field and state to state as 9-11 is remembered. Gilman slot back Cyrus Jones
was 7 years old at the time and says his most vivid memory of 9-11 was that it was "mayhem and confusion."
"The best thing we can do is play our hardest for those who were killed that day, and the families and friends they left behind," Jones said.… O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.Jon Buzby is the sports columnist for the Newark Post, a freelance writer, and on the broadcast team for the 1290AM The Ticket High School Football and Basketball Games of the Week. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.