La Center, Hockinson fans making memories
LA CENTER — The first football game of the season in La Center had a 7 p.m. kickoff.
The party started earlier.
Tosha Emerson, a dozen or so of her friends, and plenty of students showed up to tailgate at 5 p.m. in the parking lot outside the football stadium.
“It means family, for sure,” Emerson said of Friday Night Lights in La Center. “It’s pretty cool that people come out here. It’s a small community. They know the kids. They come out and watch them play ball. A lot of passion out here.”
By the end of the night, those La Center fans might have been disappointed in the result, but they could still celebrate the return of football.
Hockinson rallied from a 14-0 halftime deficit and pulled out a 19-14 victory over the Wildcats.
Of course, that just made the Hockinson faithful thrilled with the season opener.
“Opening night is probably my favorite thing ever. Growing up in a football family, it’s crazy that I’m in high school and it’s everything I’ve always dreamed of,” said Hockinson junior Celia Racanelli.
Football family? Try football royalty at Hockinson. Her older brothers Canon and Sawyer led the Hawks to state championships. Celia’s father Josh Racanelli remains an assistant coach with the program.
Now, Celia is on the sideline with the Hockinson cheer squad.
“As a cheer team, I want a lot more team bonding,” she said. “For our football team, kind of the same thing. I want them to have a successful season.”
Small-town football brings families together.
Tosha Emerson has two sons who play for La Center this season: Gaven and Kaden. Tosha also has fond memories of watching Wildcat football when she was a student. She is a La Center graduate, class of 2000.
Interestingly enough, John Lambert was the coach then and is the coach now.
“He was my teacher when I went to school,” Emerson said. “It’s full circle.”
The home fans were thrilled with the first half Friday. The public address announcer proudly called out the La Center touchdowns and reminded folks that the booster club’s concession stand was open.
Lambert said there was a special feeling to Friday’s game. Sure, there was a full season with playoffs last year. But it still did not feel the same, not with all the pandemic protocols.
“This felt normal like 2019,” Lambert said. “First time in a while folks felt that way. To be out here, and it’s a rival and a local school that’s really good, it’s good for the community.”
On the other side of the field, Hockinson students filled the student section, while parents and other fans filled up the rest of the bleachers. It turned into standing room only on the track surrounding the field.
Those fans might have been a little worried at halftime, but it was their time to celebrate by the end of the game.
Hockinson coach Clint LeCount agreed with Lambert’s assessment, too. This season already feels like a normal season compared to 2021.
The Hawks loved the atmosphere at La Center.
“Small-town football is something else. When it’s such a small community, you’re all so tight. You just have everyone’s back,” Hockinson quarterback Jarod Oldham said. “They all come out to support one another. That’s just how we do it.”
Hockinson linebacker Tyler Litle felt the love, too.
”It’s everything. When you look at the stands, you know half the people there, especially on your side. I know everyone,” he said. “It’s every game.”
Football is back. For real this time.
And small-town football is the real deal.
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