From left: Heritage Academy’s Seth Swain, Banks Hyde, Clay Walters, J.R. Lott, Chapman Cooper, Carter Putt, and Davis Fitch took part in the Diabetes Foundation of Mississippi’s Columbus/Golden Triangle Walk at the Columbus Riverwalk last Sunday. Photo by: Contributed
October 28, 2018 1:13:03 AM
If the Heritage Academy football team has anything to say about it, disco just might make a comeback in the Golden Triangle.
This season, visitors to C.L. Mitchell Field have been treated to sounds of Sister Sledge's disco hit "We Are Family" following Heritage Academy victories. The song, which the Pittsburgh Pirates used as their theme song en route to winning the 1979 World Series, is infectious and epitomizes the bond that the Patriots have used as their motivation.
That togetherness continues to get stronger after 11 games.
On the field, No. 2 seed Heritage Academy showed that strength Friday in a 41-6 victory against No. 15 Lee (Miss.) Academy in a Mississippi Association of Independent Schools (MAIS) Class AAA first-round playoff game.
That bond might be even stronger off the field.
Last Sunday, seven Heritage Academy players took part in the Columbus/Golden Triangle Walk sponsored by the Diabetes Foundation of Mississippi (DFM) at the Columbus Riverwalk. The walk was a fundraiser used to generate awareness about diabetes, a disease in which the body's ability to produce or respond to the hormone insulin is impaired, resulting in abnormal metabolism of
carbohydrates and elevated levels of glucose in the blood and urine.
According to a 2017 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 100 million U.S. adults are living with diabetes or prediabetes.
Heritage Academy senior Davis Fitch, a transfer from New Hope High School, was diagnosed with Type 1 (juvenile) Diabetes when he was 11 years old. He said he has to take a shot of insulin whenever he eats and before he goes to bed. The shots work to keep his blood sugar at a controlled level. He said his Heritage Academy teammates know he has the condition, but he didn't expect any of them to be at the Riverwalk to take part in the event. Much to Fitch's surprise, Banks Hyde, Clay Walters, J.R. Lott, Chapman Cooper, Carter Putt, and Seth Swain were there waiting to join him in the walk.
"We have been friends for a long time," Fitch said. "We haven't been teammates, except in the park league. To be on the same high school team means a lot. They accepted me in right when I came here. It has helped a lot."
Diabetes didn't prevent Fitch from taking part in sports at New Hope High. It also hasn't prevented him from transitioning to the football team at Heritage Academy. He said in the offseason he already knew a lot of the players on the team from playing youth sports with them growing up. Fitch said that team chemistry has gotten stronger throughout the season.
"When you come out here and you can trust your teammates to pick you up when you're down or they're there to encourage you whenever you make a mistake, we're family," Fitch said. "That's the best way to say it.
The diabetes event at the Riverwalk fit so well with Heritage Academy's slogan of #Family because those who took part in the walk received "We Are Family" necklaces in goodie bags. Fitch said some of his teammates have the necklaces hanging up in their locker room in the school's field house.
Lott, who played in his first game since injuring his ankle in the preseason, said growing up he played baseball with Fitch, so it was natural for him and his teammates to support their teammate at the diabetes event.
"This is the closest team I have ever been a part of in any sport," Lott said. "When they say family, we're really family."
Lott said the #Family started in May as the Patriots began preparations for the 2018 campaign. He said everyone realized the team had the potential to do something "special," so he said it was imperative for everyone to get on board.
"You can't get to that point if half of the team is on board with it and half of the team is not," Lott said. "If you're there together and there is a bond, brotherhood, family, all of that stuff, you're going to reach that goal."
Much like the Mississippi State football team has used Journey's song "Don't Stop Believin' " as its unofficial anthem, Sister Sledge played in the background as Lott talked about his return to the field. The song had finished by the time Fitch discussed sharing time with his teammates at the Riverwalk, but there was a feeling that Friday wasn't going to be the last time in 2018 that Patriots' players, fans, family members, and friends heard it play.
Heritage Academy coach Sean Harrison said the "family" concept has been an important part of the squad's "horizontal, not vertical leadership" that has strengthened the bonds and brought everyone closer together.
"The biggest thing that we haven't had here is how much they hold each other accountable," Harrison said. "They're not afraid to get in each other's face when they feel someone is not doing something they're supposed to do at practice.
"I look back at the week of practice for the game against Starkville Academy. That was the most fiery week of practice we have had of them getting after each other when a mistake was made. I think it is wonderful because they don't get their feelings hurt. They take it, they understand it, and they make it better."
If that means Harrison has to hear Sister Sledge following games for three more weeks, he's all for it.
For more information about diabetes or fundraising opportunities, call the DFM at 601-957-7878.
Adam Minichino is sports editor of The Dispatch. You can email him at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @ctsportseditor.
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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