SWEETWATER, Tenn. -- What? Where? A Tennessee dateline? Don't I understand the big games Friday night were played in Geneva, Maple Park and St. Charles?
Of course. I wish I could have been there. Our motto at the Daily Herald is Big Picture, Local Focus. I've been lucky enough to cover my share of Big Picture games through the years - Cubs, White Sox, Bears, Bulls and my favorites, college basketball and football - but I'll take the Local Focus of a Tri-Cities game any day of the week and twice on Friday nights.
Unfortunately, it's been a tough stretch for my family, specifically my sister. She had twins, her first children, in April. They were born premature, both with serious medical problems. My sister's boy John passed away after two weeks, and last Saturday they also lost their daughter Hallie, who fought for her life like a champ for four months.
So I'm just south of Knoxville tonight, gathering with family for an 11 a.m. service Saturday. Obviously, high school sports pale in comparison to everything I've just written, just as they did last week at St. Charles East when the Saints had a moment of silence for Geneva and the Vikings' loss of assistant coach Marc Fagot and a senior on last year's team, John McNeil.
Sports has so many admirable qualities, so many valuable life lessons they teach like teamwork, competition, pushing yourself to make the most of your abilities, sportsmanship, the ability to rally a community together - the list goes on and on.
Another is they can take our minds off the tough parts of life. So when I can use a break from the sad news, and if it's a Friday night in the fall, my body clock knows it needs to be at a high school football game.
And here I am in the south, the so-called mecca of football, where the game is a religion to so many. I wanted to see just what the fuss is about, how high school football here compares with what I think is a pretty special place to watch prep football in the Tri-Cities.
While this might not quite be Texas and the Friday Night Lights, it's still the heart of SEC country, a stone's throw from where 110,000 fans will be today watching the University of Tennessee Volunteers.
So from a packed Norris Stadium last week for Geneva-St. Charles East, it's Loudon, Tennessee for me and the Redskins' matchup with visiting Alcoa, which I learned happened to be the first five-time defending state champions in Tennessee history.
First impression? It's always a good sign when you need police to direct traffic. And once in the parking lot there were the most people telling you where to park since the Solheim Cup.
Once you walked up to Dukes Field at Chig Ratledge Stadium, complete with reminders of 1969, 1974 and 1975 state champions and retired jersey numbers, and a 10-minute wait to buy a ticket.
Other impressions? Not one but two bands as the visitors also brought theirs. I think that's a great idea, I wish our schools did that. Three television crews covering the game. And you can beat the scenery, looking up from the field to see the Smoky Mountains in the distance.
So big crowds, an enthusiastic public address announcer that I can only describe if you can imagine Geneva's Kurt Wehrmeister with a thick southern accent, the cheerleaders, the burgers cooking on the grill, officials getting an occasional boo, some pretty impressive football teams - it felt a lot like high school football back home.
Final impression? Thank goodness for sports, for something that brings a smile to so many, often when we need it the most.
And thank goodness for that Big Picture and Local Focus, and not just as it relates to our newspaper.
For that local focus of family and friends, who come together in times like these to comfort, to support, to laugh, to cry, to encourage, to push on.
And for the big picture like my sister has - a faith stronger than anyone I've ever met - who knows she'll see her children again. They'll be happy, healthy, and knowing our family, probably talking about and playing sports.