Wahconah, Putnam football players team up for unity

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SPRINGFIELD — About 52 miles separate the campuses of Wahconah Regional High School and Roger L. Putnam Vocational-Technical Academy.

With all the angst from weary football fans and political officials directed toward professional football players for kneeling during the National Anthem, the two schools wanted to show that football can be used to bring communities together.

Before the playing of the National Anthem, the teams formed two lines across each 40-yard line. A color guard marched to the 20-yard line. The teams locked arms — in a line alternated with one Putnam player and one Wahconah player all linked together — as the anthem began.

Wahconah coach Gary Campbell Jr. said the teams wanted to show that football is a unifying sport and uniting was a perfect way to honor America.

"We're all from different backgrounds, different socioeconomic backgrounds, different geographical backgrounds," he said. "Plan and simple, because of those differences we stood together. That's what the Stars and Stripes mean and that's where we've got to get. ... They were excited to do this. They were proud to stand up for the flag and stand up for everything that we did today."

Displays of unity with players locking arms or kneeling in prayer during the National Anthem were held across the National Football League last week. The displays or protests were sparked by former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick's silent protest of police brutality and inequality last season. President Donald Trump's statements last week during a rally in Alabama where he refereed to protesting NFL players as "sons of bitches," spurred more players and some NFL team owners to join their teams on the sideline during the anthem.

Wahconah senior Dane Campbell said the idea for the display of unity arose after talking to his father (Gary) about everything that's going on in the NFL. They batted the idea around within the team before reaching out to Putnam. Putnam agreed to joining together, adding that the players should lock arms with an opponent and then they took the field together under the lights at Springfield Central.

"We were just trying to show that no matter what this nation is together," the younger Campbell said. "

"We don't care about what's going on around the world, we just love the game of football and we play for America," added Putnam senior Edrick Santiago. "Football brings us together because everybody fights hard on the field. It's a brotherhood."

Reach sports writer Akeem Glaspie at 413-496-6252 or @TheAkeemGlaspie.


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