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The Fuqua family

Schools often talk about being a family, and in the seven years I’ve reported on high school sports, I don’t think I have ever seen that better illustrated than on the football field during Fuqua School varsity game nights. There is a special bond that exists between the Falcons varsity cheerleading and football teams. I imagine being a small school helps contribute to this.

It was a tough year for Fuqua’s varsity football team as it entered the season with a particularly small group that featured only four seniors. Thirteen senior players graduated the year before when the team went to the state title game, and nine more graduated the year prior to that. But with help from some student-athletes answering the call and returning to the sport to help the team, the boys did their best and made something special of the 2018 season, rebounding from a 1-4 start to land right back in the state title game, finishing with an overall record of 5-6.

And they didn’t do it alone.

With them every step of the way were the Fuqua cheerleaders — home and away, rain or shine.

I remember during the first half of the Falcons’ home game against Broadwater Academy on Nov. 2, it rained consistently. But no one was taking any time off on the sideline or on the field. As the boys put together a 50-6 win on Senior Night on the field, the girls were there in large numbers on the sideline, cheering with spirit in full uniforms topped by rain jackets.

I recall a comment by one mom who said they weren’t going to let the weather stop them from doing their job of cheering on the boys.

I was told by Farrah Schmidt, who has two daughters on the varsity cheer team, that this has been a unique year in that many girls decided to cheer who had never cheered before. Some of those girls are stars in their own signature sports, but they wanted to take the time to cheer.

Schmidt said the girls make spirit tags for the football players and give them Gatorade and their favorite candy before every game. She added that the guys, in return, will occasionally give the cheerleaders flowers to show their appreciation or possibly a personalized megaphone.

And support tends to be the most meaningful when it comes during difficult times. The Falcons lost the state championship game 61-8 to an undefeated opponent that was so stacked with talent, it really should have been playing a division or two higher. Fuqua knew going into the Roanoke-based contest that it was going to be an extremely formidable challenge.

After the game, Falcons Varsity Football Head Coach Ben Manis praised his players’ effort in the face of a daunting task.

There, as always, to help the boys face that task was the Fuqua cheerleading team. They delivered well-coordinated cheers, with some spontaneous, individual shouts of encouragement offered up in between. My attention is often drawn to these shouts because they seem voluntary, sort of coming in the “break time” between formal cheers.

Consequently, there was one moment in particular that really jumped out to me during the second quarter. As expected, the opponent, Roanoke Catholic School, was proving particularly strong and had developed a 20-0 lead. Then just more than three minutes into the quarter, the Celtics broke away on a 79- yard touchdown run.

The Fuqua cheerleaders had finished their coordinated cheer and briefly fell silent as the scoreboard changed from 20-0 to 26-0. I remember thinking it has to be discouraging for them as well as the boys on the field.

But then a soft voice broke the silence. I’m not entirely sure who it was, but I’m thinking it was senior cheerleader Madelyn Bickford. She said to her teammates in reference to the score, “Look, I know it sucks, but let’s keep on cheering.” She then proceeded to offer up a “Go Falcons!” and was joined by others.

I thought that simple, steadfast act was extraordinary. That’s support that money could never really buy. That’s support that inspires character in others — like the young men on the field.

And after the game, like every game, the cheerleaders take the field to join the huddle with the players, who kneel as Coach Manis talks to them. As he closes in prayer, the boys put their hands on the shoulder pads of the players next to them and the cheerleaders, standing, did so as well to the players in front of them. They all conclude the evening by saying the Lord’s Prayer in unison.

It’s a beautiful thing.

TITUS MOHLER is the sports editor for The Farmville Herald and Farmville Newsmedia, LLC. His email address is Titus.Mohler@FarmvilleHerald.com