As a doctoral student much of my time is dedicated to reading, writing and research. I have learned how to take a break, however, and last year during my down time I enjoyed watching the Trenton Central High Tornadoes play football. Spending time on the sidelines was the highlight of my week, I went to just about every home game and I always had my camera gear in tow. There were games when I took almost 300 pictures while other times I shot mostly video. I just couldn’t get enough of watching the kids do their thing especially since some of them faced so many challenges. Many of them attend a school that is badly in need of repairs and live in neighborhoods where crime and poverty are very much a part of the social terrain. Last summer one of their teammates was shot and killed at a party and in 2013 a record 37 other people were killed in the city. The cards were stacked against Trenton High students; but you would never know it when they took the field on Saturdays.
Over the last few seasons Trenton High won only a few games, but they didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about the past. In September they beat Nottingham High School, a team that was considered to be one of the best in the state last year. This was a new season and, regardless of their previous record, the Trenton High kids played to win. Their confidence increased with every game, and eventually word got around town that the Tornadoes were doing well. The football team brought a little joy to a city that was plagued by violence.
As the season progressed the football games became a social as well as an athletic event. Nowhere was this more evident than during Homecoming. I arrived around 11:00 am roughly two hours before the game. The weather was cool and only a few clouds dotted the clear blue sky. It was football weather, the type of weather that imbues people to come out and socialize. Last year the Trenton High’s band was eliminated due to budget cuts, but a man on one of the floats provided music for the people who were in attendance. As the music blared through the loudspeakers the cheerleaders moved and grooved to the Sugar Hill Gang’s Apache and other ole school hits. Food vendors were on hand selling hot dogs, hamburgers, and sausages, and the white smoke from their grills filled the air. People were eating, laughing and generally having a good time before the game even started. Of course they came to see the Tornadoes play, but they also came to unite and catch up with old friends.
Inside the Homecoming program were full color pictures, information about the players and a special page dedicated to first year Head Coach Tarig Holman. Widely credited with the transforming of the team, Holman attended the University of Iowa on a full football scholarship and later played in the NFL for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. No one could have predicted that he would turn the program around so quickly. Watching the youngsters take the field you could tell they were disciplined, well trained and confident. Coach Holman instilled a sense of hope in his players. It was obvious that they believed in themselves, yet perhaps more importantly they believed in each other. Holman was voted Coach of the year and Sportsperson of the year by two local newspapers. Additionally several players from his squad earned all-county honors, one player was voted lineman of the year.
For the first year since 1995 Trenton High made the playoffs. Behind the strong play of J’Ron Brown, Trumane Nieves and J’Von Clark, it looked like the team might go far. Sadly, however, their hopes were dashed when they lost to South Brunswick in the first round. As the players walked of the field cheerleaders gave them some one last ha rah, “We’re proud of our team. Our team is number one. We stand behind the red and black they’re second to none!” Parents and fans clapped as they made their way to the locker rooms. The Trenton Central High Tornadoes will be back next year. And I will be right on the sidelines with them.