Two Arizona high school football teams recently put their patriotism on full display before their games to honor first responders and those who served in the military.
Paying tribute to first responders became an annual tradition at Snowflake High School, located about a three-hour drive northeast of Phoenix, following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Kevin Standerfer, the school’s athletic director, told Western Journalism “Heroes Night” is something that has grown over the years and is designed not only to recognize first responders but active-duty military and veterans.
It is a way for the community to “say thank you for helping us with our freedoms and protecting us and giving us what we have in this great land that we live in,” he said.
At this year’s ceremony, varsity athletes brought an immense American flag onto the field (borrowed from a local rodeo) as a school musical group led the crowd in singing the national anthem. Old Glory stretched from 30-yard line to 30 yard line, and from midfield to the sidelines.
The football players also each carried an American flag with the teams standing on their respective sidelines as members of the police and fire departments come onto the field in full dress to a standing ovation.
At the end of the game, the American flag was retired as member of the high school band played Taps.
“I can’t describe what it sounds like when somebody starts playing Taps and they’re taking down the flag after a football game, and the place just goes silent,” said Standefer, whose son currently plays on Snowflake’s team. “(It) is truly an amazing experience to be part of.”
Show Low High School, located about 20 miles south of Snowflake, decided to have a night honoring first responders this year as well.
“It’s been a big thing up here for our first responders because we had a forest fire and that brought attention to people who put themselves in harm’s way to protect us,” athletic director David Nikolas told Western Journalism.
He also recounted that the death of local police officer Darrin Reed in the line of duty in November further motivated the high school to want to hold the event.
As in Snowflake, Show Low’s team, joined by their competitor Coolidge High School from the Phoenix area, carried American flags onto the field before the game started.
A local Boy Scout troop performed the duties of honor guard as the crowd sang the national anthem.
At halftime, members of the police force presented a high school student with a scholarship in memory of Reed.
The display of patriotism by these teams stands in sharp contrast to NFL players taking a knee on the gridiron week after week while the national anthem is played.