One of the more memorable seasons in Rock Hill's storied football history ends this month, but not before some future stars take the field at District Three Stadium.
All-star youth teams from around the state will converge on the stadium Saturday for a slate of state championship games put on by the South Carolina Athletics Program. The contests, which start at 9 a.m., feature boys ranging in ages from 9 to 14.
For local fans who watched South Pointe, Northwestern and Rock Hill high schools turn in stellar seasons, it's a final chance to enjoy some football action.
"Everything is coming full circle," said Thomas Richmond, who retired this season after 12 years as coach of the Finley Road Falcons.
Many of the greats came up through the Pee Wee leagues on their paths to stardom -- names such as Gerald Dixon, Jeff Burris, Ben Watson and Jonathan Hefney. And the talent-rich Rock Hill and Northwestern teams that competed for state titles surely owed much of their success to the strength of the city's Pee Wee program. Now, South Pointe High School is drawing on it, too.
Stallions quarterback Stephon Gilmore played on Richmond's Finley Road Falcons team. So did Brandon Williams, a standout linebacker at Northwestern. Now, local coaches are working with another promising crop of youngsters.
"When they get to high school, they basically know the fundamentals of football," said Eric Mitchell, who coached the combined Sylvia Circle and Sunset Park teams this season. "The coaches don't have to teach them as much."
High school coaches credit much of their teams' successes to the city's youth football programs.
"The kids have a good, basic terminology of what's happening before we get a hold of them," said Mike Biddix, the defensive coordinator at Northwestern. "Once they get involved and have some success, they want to stay in it."
The 10-year-old all star-team escaped rainy weather one night this week by holding practice inside the wrestling gym at Northwestern. Safety Bailey Griffin ran through drills with his teammates while his mom, Sue Whitmore, watched from the side. Last week, the family traveled to Clemson to watch South Pointe win the state championship over Northwestern.
For now, Bailey is a fifth-grade student at Lesslie Elementary School. But he's already looking forward to playing for the Stallions in a few years.
"He wanted to go to the state championship game because he knows he's going there," said his mother. "He'd go to the middle school games, too, if he had time. He loves the game."
WANT TO GO?
What: Youth football state championships.
Where: District Three Stadium on Cherry Road, Rock Hill.
When: Six games will be played Saturday, beginning at 9 a.m.
Tickets: $3 for adults, $2 for children.
Details: Call the information hotline at 803-329-4040, ext. 2403.