Though Spartanburg prevailed 49-28 in the Dec. 6 Class AAAA Division 11 state championship, the York Comprehensive High School Cougars will forever remember the season-ending showdown.
And so will I.
Upon the team’s arrival to 81,000-seat Williams-Brice Stadium at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, the Cougars entered the Gamecock locker room after being designated the home team for the state title game.
The USC locker room facility is unlike any dressing room in the high school ranks.
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While waiting with the York coaches, I began to ponder thoughts of future Hall of Fame coach Steve Spurrier, Heisman Trophy-winner George Rogers, No. 1 draft pick Jadeveon Clowney and other Gamecocks icons.
After spending some time in the USC press box, I took the elevator down to ground level, where a security guard allowed me to enter the home sideline.
It was 10:30 a.m., 30 minutes before the gates would open to spectators.
I had the pleasure of mingling with familiar personalities at the sideline, including longtime friend Gene Knight, legendary voice of the Rock Hill Bearcats, whose blood runneth York.
I also got to chat with high school coaching legend Jimmy “Moose” Wallace, whose football commentary for WRHI radio is exemplary. As a color analyst, Moose is second to none.
Once the gates opened, frenzied York fans began filing into the home side of Williams-Brice. The first ovation from the York fans was when the Cougars cheerleaders entered the home sideline.
I thought about going back to the pressbox to cover the game, but decided not to watch the game through a glass window high above the stands.
It was a treat getting to talk to so many York fans, among them my friend John Bailey, who was a great high school athlete in North Carolina in his playing days.
After mingling with many York fans, I found a seat near the top of the lower deck, alongside another longtime friend, Cougars football loyalist Joe Henderson. We were seated where there was some protection in the event of heavy rainfall.
Moments before game time, the Cougars entered the field where the Gamecocks football team makes its storied entrance to the lively “2001” theme.
The York NJROTC color guard participated in pregame ceremonies, and the Cougars band performed at halftime.
The game was played before a huge following of York and Spartanburg fans, making the environment electric.
After the game, many of the York fans greeted the Cougars players as they left the Gamecocks dressing room and returned to the stadium parking lot to board buses.
Superintendent Vernon Prosser praised the Cougars for a remarkable season, despite the loss to Spartanburg.
“York Comprehensive High School has a lot to be proud of,” Prosser said.
Though the Spartanburg Vikings won the game, the Cougars won the hearts of thousands of local fans, whose passion for York football spans decades.