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Why are sports important in the Cougar Nation?

Friday nights are a big deal in Pulaski County and other small towns across the country. Not only do they allow our young athletes a venue to compete and challenge themselves, but these games also serve as social events that bring our community together.

 

Since recovering from my accident in 1999 and getting into photography and sports coverage, I’ve been blessed to witness a lot of memorable moments. Many of these may seem small in the big scheme of things, they meant the world to those involved.

 

Many of these moments have involved tears. There have been tears of joy and tears of sadness, each offering their own special form of relief for that moment.

 

I remember standing in the locker room when the Cougar football team lost to Courtland in 2013. It was a surreal moment for me personally. I was a senior on the team that lost 8-7 to the Courtland Cougars in 1986. That Cougar football uniform was the first and most important one I wore before putting on an Army uniform after graduation.

 

What made the moment even more special was that my son was on the 2013 team. He was a junior. I found him in a corner with his friends. As he took off his jersey and shoulder pads, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. He looked at me and began to cry.

 

Tyler had worn MY Cougar football T-shirt from 1986, thread thin and worn, under his shoulder pads that night. As the tears rolled down his face, he said, “I wanted to wear it to get payback for you.”

 

That T-shirt is now in a special place.

 

Football isn’t the only sport with special moments, and those moments aren’t all in the distant past.

 

Last March a group of very young ladies reached the big dance. The Lady Cougar basketball team, with a lineup consisting of several freshmen, sophomores and juniors, were led by two scrappy seniors to the Group 4A girls’ basketball state title game.

 

When they played Carroll County at Galax High School in the semifinals, nobody expected them to win. As has been the case many times over in the history of Pulaski County sports, an undersized player motivated the team to play bigger than they were.

 

Alicia Noble was five-feet nothing and had no business playing against some of the elite players on the Carroll County roster. Somebody forgot to tell “Spark” about that. She was tasked with guarding one of the biggest players on the Cavalier roster, and she did it with a ferocious and aggressive show of heart. I wish we had five more just like her.

 

Players with heart like that have dotted the history of Pulaski County sports. Who can ever forget David “Pocket Rocket” Hale? Not only did he excel at the high school level, but David Hale went on to become a team captain at the University of Virginia.

 

Want another example? Take a look at the 2010 Cougar football team. Under VHSL sanctions for an alleged out of season practice, the Cougars were forced to skip a portion of their normal preseason practices, had to skip one of their preseason scrimmages and were ineligible for the playoffs that season.

 

Former Cougar player Todd Jones returned to the area to take over the program. Things were bleak until the Cougars met Patrick Henry on the road. Nobody expected the smaller Cougars to be able to compete with the Patriots, but once again, somebody forgot to tell Pulaski County.

 

Regulation time ran out and suddenly the Cougars and Patriots were in overtime. The score remained tied through two overtimes, sending fans from both teams into a frenzy.

 

Cougar quarterback Chad Perry got it done. He led his team to victory, earning a huge 43-42 triple overtime win.

 

Fast forward to game 10 and the Cougars were facing the Salem Spartans. The Cougars needed a win to secure a 5-5 season. Once again, nobody expected much.

 

Chad Perry and his teammates got it done, defeating Salem in a 21-13 come-from-behind effort.

 

After the game, I told Chad his stats for the game. He looked up with a smile and said, “Dave, the only stat that matters to me is that final score.”

 

Friday night, the Cougar football team will take the field once again. Their opponents will be the Salem Spartans. As usual, the Spartans are favored to win. The Pulaski County defense is good, but “experts” say that the Cougars just don’t have enough in the arsenal to get it done.

 

I hope somebody forgets to tell Austin Gallimore that. I hope somebody fails to mention to Luke Russell and Ethan Gallimore that they can’t win this game. Then again, maybe someone does need to tell Gage Mannon, Corvin Carter, Chayton Rollins, the entire defensive front and the rest of the Cougar defense that they don’t stand a chance?

 

The Cougar offense has grown up some since the beginning of the season. Friday night would be a fine time for a coming of age celebration. If there has ever been a big stage, this is it.

 

Expect a big crowd, cold weather or not, and expect excitement. This is the way it’s supposed to be. This Cougar team and many other recent Cougar and Lady Cougar squads have served notice that Pulaski County is hungry for another trophy.

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