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The Suburbanite
  • Panthers' run boosts community

  • Manchester football's run to the state semifinals was about more than a single team. It was about pride for an entire community.
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  • The Manchester Panthers' story is well-known by now. They finished 11-3 and made it to the state semifinals of the Division V playoffs, where they fell to Columbus Bishop Hartley, 49-22. It was their second trip to the state semifinals, and the first since 1997 when they ended up losing the Division IV state championship game in five overtimes to Germantown Valley View.
    This year's squad was built more on intangibles than tangibles. What the Panthers may have lacked in talent, strength, size and speed, they more than made up for in grit, toughness, determination and perseverance.
    For that alone, Manchester, which made it to the postseason for the 21st time, was fun to watch.
    The fact the Panthers pulled off one of their all-time greatest wins with a last-play 19-16 decision over four-time state champion Youngstown Ursuline in the first round of the playoffs, and the number of great, feel-good stories grows only larger.
    Add in the coaches – head coach Jim France was in his 42nd season at the school and is primed to become the state's all-time winningest coach in 2015. Defensive coordinator Jim Robinson has been there for four decades and Scott Cantrell and Jason France have combined for nearly a half-century on the job.
    But even with all that, there's more.
    Those are just the obvious things. There were plenty of not-so-obvious aspects to this season that, when you get right down to it, may have been even more important and memorable.
    What about the way the season benefitted all those people in all those houses in the community who are hurting in some way? What about the way it allowed those individuals to escape their problems, if only for three hours every week since the season began in late August?
    Sports at all levels are so very important, paricularly in small communities in which everybody knows everybody and, as such, people feel a special attachment to all that goes on. Everything – everybody – is close to home. Since it's live and local, it means a little more than if it were happening in another town, another county or even another state.
    See that kid who caught the touchdown pass? He's my next-door neighbor.
    See that kid who's playing quarterback? He's my nephew.
    See that kid who intercepted the pass? He's best friends with my son.
    See the punter? I used to babysit him.
    See that big kid in the middle of the line? I went to high school with his father. He was big, too.
    And see this stadium? It's where I played years ago. And it didn't look much different then than it does now.
    The players and coaches know nothing about any of this, how the brand of the team has expanded. They spend their time knee-deep in making the season happen. They don't have time to worry about anything else.
    Page 2 of 2 - But these tentacles are there, and they are oh, so important.
    You see, there are plenty of people out there who don't know the difference between a jet sweep and a jet plane, a screen pass and a screen door or a post pattern and a post card.
    But it means little that they are unaware of the hardcore football stuff. What matters is that they are totally aware of the significance of what the Panthers did this year, and that winning, even if you don't understand all the ins and outs of it, is fun and exciting and fresh and exhiliarating. After all, everybody wants to identify with a winner.
    In a day and age when the negative seems to take precedence in everything around us – when we frequently hear about what's wrong and seldom about what's right – it's good to have something to make you smile.
    And the Manchester football team, with not just its winning ways but also the ways in which it won, made people smile.
    Sports do that.
    For all of us.
    There are no exceptions.
    So when life is made better for whatever period of time, that's a reason in itself to be happy.
    Congratulations, Manchester Panthers, for your fine season.
    Also, thank you for what you know you did – the numbers, the wins – and also for what you'll never know you did for lots of people you may never meet.

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