For second year, Cyclones' drive to title game gives Chester reason to cheer

Tammie Gonzales, right, at Black's Drug Store in Chester, shows Adell Thompson Chester High Cyclones items for sale in the store Wednesday.
Tammie Gonzales, right, at Black's Drug Store in Chester, shows Adell Thompson Chester High Cyclones items for sale in the store Wednesday.

CHESTER -- The Charlotte company Bobby Campbell Jr. worked for recently went under and the 34-year-old's job went with it.

But he was grinning Wednesday morning at Black's Drug Store in Chester because he graduated from Chester High School, and his alma mater's football team is playing in the state championship game for the second straight year.

"Something good to look forward to," he said after buying a Cyclones ballcap and tickets to the Saturday game against Myrtle Beach at Clemson University's Death Valley.

Campbell and his wife, Tatanish, another Cyclone alumna, remember the days when the football team wasn't that good. Before last year, the team hadn't been to the state championship since 1963.

The kind of winning the Campbells have seen over the past two seasons is new -- and timely.

"Forget all the bad times," Tatanish said of what the championship game will do, "and get some excitement."

That attitude flows throughout this small city, one that has been hit so hard by plant closings in recent years, and even harder in recent months.

Chester County had the fifth-highest unemployment rate in the state in October.

But now, what's carrying folks is this team. The drive can be seen in the supportive signs in front of the dry-cleaning place beside Black's and outside First Baptist Church across the street.

"Go Cyclones" reads the one in front of the First Citizens Bank along the J.A. Cochran Bypass.

"We kept it short and simple," said Amy Wyatt, who works in the bank's loan department and whose husband put up the sign.

A Chester alumna, Wyatt won't be able to go to Saturday's game, so the sign will have to do.

Wyatt said the Cyclones have been the buzz of the bank and the town.

"Everybody's trying to get behind them," she said.

Nowhere is that buzz louder than down the road at Chester High, where students are making "rally rags" to hand out at the game.

The idea came from English teacher Wanda Mayhugh, who got it while watching a football game on television several weeks ago. She liked the concept of waving flags at the game. So she cut up some white sheets, and students wrote on them with colored markers in between classwork.

"My original goal was 200," she said.

By midday Wednesday, she had 255, and a Spanish class was beginning to work on another batch after a test. A dry erase board at the front of the class bore the names of all the football players and their numbers.

"Last year, we were hoping for it," Mayhugh said of a state championship. "This year, we're expecting it."

For senior wide receiver Fred Lee, the support is greater than he could've imagined. Churches have brought food for the players after practice this week.

And when he's not been wolfing down free hot dogs and pizza, he's having elementary school kids ask him for autographs when he works as a teacher cadet or talking to random people who stop him, asking if he plays for the football team.

Those experiences drive home the point his coach has made this season: "You're not playing for yourself."

"It's about Chester as a community," Lee said. "And what Chester has to look forward to."

Jacob Waldrip, a senior and part of a group of fans he described as "Cyclone maniacs" was amazed by the fan support at last week's playoff win at Daniel High School, when hundreds of fans made the long drive to cheer on the team.

Kyle Young, a senior and team manager, said he was on the field last year when the Cyclones lost the state title to Wilson by two points. Last year's theme was "It's our time."

"We still think it's our time," he said.

• Tickets for Saturday's game are $8 and available at Chester High School or Black's Drug Store.

Chester High School football coach Maurice Flowers discusses Saturday's upcoming title match against the Myrtle Beach Seahawks.

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