You do not have to be a football fan, or have kids at Northwestern or South Pointe high schools, to care about what’s going to happen on Saturday.
That’s the day when, yet again, Rock Hill will lay its claim as Football City, South Carolina. Northwestern and South Pointe – located just six miles apart – play in their respective state championship games.
They’ll play at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, where the University of South Carolina Gamecocks play – and these kids get to live the dream. The cheerleaders, the bands, the students, the fans – everybody gets to be on the big stage.
These two schools are not just good at football, they’re great.
Both teams are among the best in the state and even the nation most years, and both have won multiple state titles. And everybody in Rock Hill gets a chance to be a part of that greatness.
High school football in Rock Hill is talked about at work, over lunch, at gas stations and while standing in grocery store lines. The Carolina Panthers are undefeated, and the Clemson Tigers are undefeated and No. 1 in America, and both teams deserve all the attention they get.
But this week is all about these teenagers, who are playing at the highest level and carrying the rest of us along for the ride.
Charday Sparks, 17, is the president of the drama club at South Pointe and a member of the Beta Club honor society. The Stallions football team’s success empowers all at South Pointe and across Rock Hill, she said. The impact of football on students and the community is “tremendous” in how people notice the achievement of all students, be it sports or the arts or the classroom.
“To the rest of the community,” Charday said, “this shows what our school is all about.”
Kia Currence, senior class president at South Pointe and co-president of the spirit club, said football success at South Pointe and Northwestern “is bringing Rock Hill together as a community.”
At South Pointe Tuesday, there was a tangible sense of pride – not just among student leaders, but throughout the school’s hallways. Everybody wants to be part of a winner.
The same was true at Northwestern, where students and staff beamed with excitement about the game.
“This game means a lot to Northwestern the school, the students, but it means just as much to Rock Hill, the city,” said Daydrion Dereef, junior class president at Northwestern and a member of the marching band. “Everybody is ready. Everybody is talking about it.”
The schools are so close, many families have connections to both. South Pointe is barely a decade old, so many students have siblings or other family with Northwestern roots.
But on Saturday, there will be no “us vs. them” – just “we.”
Unlike big-time college or pro sports, the achievement for high schoolers this week is the lone reward. There is no pay – just doing your best.
Khaydron Wiley works in the oven at a Rock Hill glass factory. Just two months ago, he kicked in a door at an apartment building to save the man inside from a fire. Wiley knows that big games are a big deal. A few years ago he played on great Northwestern teams. Many of his coworkers are talking football this week, both Northwestern and South Pointe.
“It is pretty incredible, people say it all the time, that two teams from Rock Hill are once again playing for the state championship,” Wiley said. “We have this name around here, Football City. And it is true. That’s what we are in Rock Hill.”
A few years ago, when South Pointe and Northwestern were in the same classification, they battled each other for the state title. But in recent years with South Pointe in Class 3A and Northwestern in 4A, the schools don’t have to vie for one trophy.
“I’m a Northwestern guy, and South Pointe was our rivals,” Wiley said, “but in Rock Hill we all root for both.
“It’s a community thing. It’s a Rock Hill thing. We all want both teams to win.”
But it took teen Charday Sparks, to put into perspective what it would mean if both Northwestern and South Pointe win state titles on the same day.
“That would be epic!”
Andrew Dys: 803-329-4065