Anyone familiar with Southwest Virginia knows what Friday nights mean; football. On a typical game night at the field, theres excitement in the crisp cold air as a continuous stream of loyal fans parade into the stands. Delicious smells of buttery popcorn floating from the concession stand and the sound of cheerleaders enthusiastically chanting for their team add to the mass energy emanating from the crowd.
A low rumble of voices fills the air and laughter pierces the night. The sound of percussions and horns echo off the bleachers in familiar tunes coming from the band, adorned in school colors. The muffled sound of glove-clad hands applauding their team and excited yells are deafening as the players emerge from the locker room.
Both teams take the field, and the anticipations so thick its suffocating. Fans hold their breath as the teams line up for the kick off not releasing it until the ball is kicked and the game begins.
But last year, at one school, in one town, someone was missing. Rickie Harris, an all-star linebacker with a 4.0 GPA would have been a junior at John I. Burton High School in Norton, Virginia. One week before the Raiders began practice, Rickie tragically lost his life in an automobile accident.
Such a dreadful event couldve crippled the John I. Burton Raiders, and the City of Norton for that matter. Instead, they chose to honor Rickie by dedicating the 2006 season to him. And what a season it was. The Raiders went undefeated, until losing the state championship by a mere point.
Losing the state championship was a disappointment, but the people of Norton chose not to dwell on the final game. They would not let a season that began in sadness, end in sadness. Instead, theyre proud of the obstacles that the team and the City overcame in order to achieve so much. And of course, theres always next year.
The 2007 season wont be all thats new at J. I. Burton Field this year. It will boast new stands in the stadium. The current stands are over 50 years old, and are showing their age. The concrete is beginning to deteriorate, and the drainage system is now obsolete. Anderson & Associates worked with architect RRMM to design new stands for the Raiders and their fans, and construction of the new structure should be completed by August 1st. Just in time for football season.
Superintendent of Norton City Public Schools, Dr. William Brannon, is excited about the face lift the field will be getting. In fact, the communitys enthusiasm over the new stands has sparked a spin-off project funded by local fundraisers to upgrade the locker room, weight room, and shower facilities.
The resilience of the John I. Burton Raiders, after the loss of their friend and
teammate seems to have lit a fire under the City of Norton. Again and again the community
proves that its not afraid to move into the future, while continuing to pay tribute
to the past. &