By Rob Ketcham
The Cullman Times
Telling your family, friends and loved ones what you’re thankful for is what today is all about.
When it comes time for Mark Britton to voice his blessings, one will undoubtedly involve the fact his Cullman football team is still in the running for a Class 5A state championship.
Taking the sideline with a tummy full of turkey isn’t something the coach gets to do every year.
“Thanksgiving is a good time to still be playing football,” Britton said. “That’s kind of some new ground for me. It’s only about the third or fourth time in my coaching career we’ve been playing at Thanksgiving.”
While students in the city and county enjoy their first holiday break of the fall semester, the Bearcats will still be hard at work. They’ll have practice at 9 a.m. today in preparation of Friday night’s third-round showdown on the road against No. 5 McAdory (12-0).
“It does cause some issues with travel and family,” Britton said. “I understand that, but football is a family also.”
The familial bond on display in the Black and Gold locker room is just one of many reasons why Cullman is a threat to make a deep postseason run each and every year.
These boys are brothers first and teammates second. When you combine the two under the Friday night lights, it often translates into results the Bearcat community and fanbase can be proud of.
On the rare occasions they come up short, the players don’t take it lightly, simply because they pour so much blood, sweat and tears into making sure they aren’t the reason their teammates are hanging their heads at the end of the night.
Accountability is rarely a concern for Britton with this Black and Gold bunch.
“These kids are a rare group. They really are,” he said. “They’re funny, but they know when it’s time to get serious. Friday nights, when it’s time to go, I don’t ever worry about those guys getting ready to play hard because I know they’re always going to play hard.”
While football is certainly something Cullman can be thankful for, a mere sport pales in comparison to how blessed the school has been by the presence of Andrew Winfrey at many of the Bearcats’ sporting events and functions.
Shortly after the student’s severe car accident in early February, no one was sure Winfrey would ever leave the hospital. Nine months later, he’s continuing to serve as an inspiration, flashing his uplifting smile from the sideline at many Cullman football games this season.
Winfrey has never given up throughout his treacherous path to recovery, and in turn, his teammates haven’t given up on him, either.
The team dedicated the 2012 campaign to Andrew and have proudly donned a No. 4 decal on their helmets, the number Winfrey wore during his All-State sophomore season. At the outset of every fourth quarter, the Bearcats lift four fingers in unison, not only to signify the last 12 minutes of each ballgame but to honor a teammate not able to join them on the field of play.
The Black and Gold are not the only beneficiaries of having Winfrey around to cheer on his favorite football team. It’s also helping him by serving as a welcome distraction after spending so much of his time regaining the mental and physical capabilities he lost in his accident.
Sure, medicine is helpful, but so too has been the outpouring of love the community and many people around the country have sent Winfrey’s way.
The next time you want to complain about a menial problem in your everyday life, think of Andrew. He’s had it worst than most in the past year and still wears a grin from cheek to cheek everywhere he goes.
Britton has taken a page from Winfrey’s playbook in that respect. Of course, he’d like to see Cullman beat McAdory, but if it doesn’t, the coach knows he still has plenty to be thankful for.
“I’d like to be able to extend this season two more weeks past Friday night,” Britton said. “But if it ended Friday night, I think we’ve still had a great season. It’s not going to take away what I think about these kids. They play hard, and they’re a lot of fun.”
% Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 257 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.