Last Friday at McRight Field, I was standing on the sidelines and watching as Damien Ford, Jayden Freeman and Jonathan George gratuitously gashed Union County and helped propel Paducah Tilghman football to its first regional championship game in five years.
The historic "Tilghman Bell" echoed through the chilly air. The band played a mighty tune. The cheerleaders bellowed with some pep.
And a smattering of fans applauded the effort.
"Smattering" might actually be a generous description. There may have been more Braves fans than Blue Tornado ones.
To the fans who've been there consistently: awesome. Keep it going.
To the fans who don't ever show up? I find this to be quite problematic.
Over the past two football seasons, Paducah Tilghman has generated an 18-6 record (with 12 home games), and the Blue Tornado have rushed for 6,779 yards. It'd be a safe bet to think the team has rushed for more yardage than total home fans in the stands during this stretch. But do the math: you'd need an average 564 fans per home game just to match the team's rushing efforts over the past two seasons.
And frankly, I don't understand it.
Sure, Tilghman football hasn't won a state championship since 2009, and over the last decade, it's had some difficulties against some powerhouses in Mayfield, Hopkinsville and "that-school-that-must'n't-be-mentioned" across town.
But this is a program with a rich history. Rich tradition. And while the success maybe hasn't been unbridled lately, it's been good. Actually, really good. The Blue Tornado have endured only one losing season in the last 10 (5-7 in 2017) and have compiled an 81-45 record over the decade; good enough for a .642 winning percentage. Any fan base would love that mark.
Maybe I'm missing some key element. Maybe it's the social media movement, in which fans can stay at home and read about things second-by-second. Maybe it's because Paducah is growing, and there's more to do on a Friday night than ever before. Maybe people would rather read about the team in The Paducah Sun, watch it on WPSD Local 6's "Gridiron Glory" or listen to Brett Larimer and Richard Abraham deliver the details via radio. Honestly, I don't care what it is. There isn't an excuse. At least, not a good one. The kids deserve better. The coaching staff deserves better. The school, itself, deserves better.
During my five years at The Sun, I've been told multiple times by multiple sources that Tilghman's fan base doesn't show up, save for when it "has" to. Like against McCracken County, in what has become an interesting, yet hilariously bitter rivalry. Oddly enough, it's probably the only game in which I have any reference to what "Tilghman Pride" is supposed to resemble.
So tonight, as Paducah Tilghman prepares to battle against a terrific Taylor County team for a berth to the Class 3A State Semifinals -- a game the Blue Tornado would host, no less, should they win -- do this team a favor:
Show up. Bring a friend. Tell a neighbor. Call a buddy.
Give Larimer and Abraham a roaring crowd for the radio. Give television cameras a reason to turn the lens to the stands. Give Jonathan Smith and his staff a reason to use their headsets.
But most importantly, give this team, its players and its rich history the respect it should've gotten all along.
And then keep doing it.