A very special Senior Night

Published 4:03 pm Thursday, February 14, 2019

previously wrote a long column about the awesome small-town, small-school, close-knit family nature of Fuqua School this year, and I recently saw another example of it that I wanted to share, because it was pretty special.

The day was Thursday, Feb. 7, and I saw that Fuqua’s varsity boys basketball team had a home game on the schedule. The Falcons were slated to play Temple Christian School.

I went to Gilmer Gymnasium during the game’s run, expecting to take in the usual intensity of a live regular season matchup that would count as either a notable win or a notable loss on the Falcons’ record in their quest to qualify for the state tournament. But this time, I found something different.

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I entered the gym at halftime and the cheerleading squad was doing a show that seemed somewhat out of the ordinary to me, as they were spread out all over the court and seemed slightly less formal, laughing and having a notable amount of fun with it, along with the crowd. Neither the Falcons nor Temple Christian were on the court, and I figured they were in their locker rooms, game-planning for the second half.

Later, I noticed players wearing Fuqua’s red road jerseys mingling around near the opposing team’s bench. Some of them looked a little young, and I figured they might be Fuqua’s junior varsity (JV) players still in uniform from a game played earlier in the evening.

Then I was informed about what was going on. Temple Christian had let Fuqua know a day or two earlier that it would not be able to make it for the game. But this was set to be Senior Night for the varsity boys basketball team and varsity cheer squad, so rather than let that event be canceled, Fuqua decided to hold a game all by itself so that those soon-to-be-graduates could get their due recognition.

The game turned into a fun exhibition pitting the varsity boys team against a squad made up of JV boys players, girls, administrators and more, including Varsity Boys Head Coach Mike Edwards, who showed he clearly still has game.

At one point during the exhibition, the student section in the stands and the cheerleaders collectively chanted, “We want Custis,” calling for Interim Upper School Head Jennings Custis to leave his duties behind the scorer’s table and enter the contest. Minutes later, their request was granted.

The referees, who had been set to officiate the game between Fuqua and Temple Christian, still found work on the night — it just turned out to be a lot more light-hearted than usual. They loosened up to match the tone of the exhibition while still enforcing some rules to give the contest structure, and they appeared to enjoy themselves.

The cheerleaders played a key role in helping give the game the atmosphere of a real regular season contest by lending it some of their patented cheers with full energy. Later, they added further to the fun and memorably unusual aspects of the night when they formally acknowledged the cheers emanating from the more sparsely populated stands on the opposite side of the gym. These cheers were being produced by what appeared to be four young alumni cheerleaders who were standing near the top of the stands.

Fuqua’s current cheerleading squad filed over during the game and entered one of the lower rows facing the four girls, and they proceeded to do a cheer-off of sorts.

By the latter portions of the high-scoring basketball game, which the varsity boys team was winning, I noted that the opposing team was playing with six players, as Coach Edwards had opted not to remove himself during one of the team’s mass substitutions.

Following the conclusion of the exhibition, both teams and the cheerleaders gathered for a big group photo in the middle of the court to commemorate the one-of-a-kind occasion, including the seniors who had been recognized with their families earlier in the night.

As everyone posed for this photo, I couldn’t help but think again about how special the high school experience is that they are enjoying this year.

The students may be fewer in number this year, but it has only served to heighten the small-town atmosphere of the school, where students wear multiple hats, serving as supporters and players. Some football players that aren’t actually part of the varsity boys basketball team can be spotted in the camouflage-wearing student section in the stands. Soon, much of the cheerleading squad will don different uniforms and become the school’s defending state champion softball team again.

As I left that gym Feb. 7, I thought these students have another amazing high school memory to add to their already rich collection.

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