In the history of football in the state of Arkansas, Fouke High School is not highly regarded. A small community mid-way between Texarkana and Shreveport, Louisiana, Fouke is often treated as the red headed stepchild of the athletic community. It is primarily known as the home of the Boggy Creek Monster thanks to films and television specials.
In the fifty some odd years that Fouke has played football it has recorded very few winning season and made the playoffs a total of nine times. The first time was in 1987 and the most recent appearance was clinched Thursday, November 7 of this year. What is it about this story that is inspiring or even worthy of mention in the lore of gridiron glory? It’s because the young men of Fouke have often be told that they can’t succeed by outside forces. They have been maligned in the media and on the state’s forum Fearless Friday.com as laughingstocks.
The Fouke Panthers play in one of the perennially strong conferences n the 3A division. #A is arguably one of the most competitive divisions and the district is always full of State Title hopefuls. Playing teams such as the Fordyce Red Bugs (hometown of the legendary Paul “bear” Bryant, the Prescott Curley Wolves, and the McGehee Owls the Panthers are always underdogs.
Going into the 2013 season with a new coaching staff and without a winning record since 2002, the Panthers had the deck stacked against them. They struggled with some players adjusting to the new system and others departing because hey were unable to follow disciplinary rules. Everyone expected the same they had received for years.
Then, they started winning.
Something changed. The young men walked taller. The school came together and felt unified. The shackles of mediocrity were obliterated. Seniors, like Drake Cross, became heroes to the younger students and were seen as admirable. Especially after Cross, a three year letterman on the offensive and defensive line, overcame a potential career ending knee injury with the mantra ” I just wanna play.” It was a mantra the entire team adopted as each week brought new challenges.
Under first year head coach Rick Barker, the season wasn’t pretty nor was it easy, but character isn’t built through comfortable circumstances. The team stumbled and dropped three games two to highly ranked teams and one to a team that has failed to make the playoffs. They rebounded with a nail-biting win against he former powerhouse the McGehee Owls and, most importantly, to constant conference force the Prescott Curley Wolves.
In a sloppy, 19-13 victory, thirty-five young men ended a decades long losing streak to the Curley Wolves. For years, the Panthers have faced the Wolves outmanned and outgunned. This year though, they dug in and found a way to defeat them with style and class. The naysayers on Fearless Friday have started to blame the field and deride the victory. However, they cannot diminish the fact that these young men should shoulder to shoulder, fought like men in the trenches and did what they were told they could not do.
That, my friends, is what the game is all about.