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Ceremony at Western football game did more than remind us of how bad it once was

 By Mike Moore

Staff Writer

 Parma – There was a fine line here, one of knowing what was about to happen, and having no clue what to expect.

Upon arriving in the broadcast booth last Friday night, Jim Francis and I — calling the Western versus Marshall football game on Sept. 11 for JTV — were told by a member of the Western athletic department that exactly 2:49 into the first quarter, the game would briefly halt for an on-field ceremony honoring the 14th anniversary of the attacks in New York, Washington D.C. and Pennsylvania.

We each gave the idea a sort of thumbs up, then got back to what we had to focus on, a pre-game show, commercial reads and so on.

And then it happened.

With the clock reading 9:11 to play in the opening quarter of a scoreless game, the referee waived his hands over his head, stopping the game and kick starting what would be 10 or 15 minutes of sheer emotion.

A simple thank you

The first gesture was likely the most obvious, the public address speaker requesting all active or retired military personal to stand.

Those that fit the description, the ones who’d earned that unique distinction, rose from their seats.

Those still sitting began what turned from a healthy clap to a resounding roar — and it wasn’t over quickly, either.

Next came a ceremony to thank local first responders, and under the shadow of an enormous American flag, fire fighters, police officers and emergency personal, took the field along the goal line.

The applause only grew in stature, with a background of music and words tugging at the heartstrings of all involved.

It was a literal and symbolic thank you, to those who serve as public protectors in our everyday lives, and a quick reminder of those some 14 years ago, who when disaster struck, were the first ones on the scene.

When citizens filed down from a burning building, they charged up.

“What was so cool to was to see the firefighters and the policemen and all that. I had chills,” Western coach Dave Mifsud said. “It was a great community thing, and I was honored we got to be a part of it.”

“I knew they were going to stop the game, but didn’t know what they were going to do,” Marshall coach Jason Stealy said. “That was first class all the way.”

When the ceremony came to a close, it was back to football, and for Jim and I, back to calling the action.

Yet, with eyes watered, my voice betrayed me, emotions overtaking.

I was able to say something short, to which Jim took and ran with while I gathered myself.

This was, as Stealy said, first class all the way.

Despite being nothing more than a bystander to it, as Mifsud said, I was honored to simply be there.

A needed reminder

The athletic department at Western, or whoever was responsible for organizing the ceremony, hit an absolute home run by doing so.

Yet I spent the rest of the game, even the next day or so, wondering why I had been so overtaken with emotion, why this reminder of that hell-filled day nearly 15 summers ago, still resonated so freshly in my mind.

Maybe it was the newscasts all day Friday, whereby so many channels ran their original broadcasts from that fateful 2001 morning.

Or, maybe it was the memory of that Tuesday, sitting glued to the television and numb, or later that afternoon, standing on the football field at Albion College with that eerie silence, screaming from the empty blue sky above.

Maybe it was being 18, and knowing so many men and women my age, or younger, were going to make the decision to enlist, whether it be out of anger, resentment or a deep-down calling many of us could never understand.

Many of whom would never return.

Maybe it was the images that day burned into my memory, not only passenger jets steering into sky scrapers, but the fear painted across the faces of those on the ground, or the desperation of those in the air, willingly leaping from the top of the Towers, accepting a sudden death on the street below as opposed to a slow burn where they stood.

Maybe it was the days and nights, the weeks and months, the years that have played out since then, a way of life, a feeling of invisibility and safety, forever stripped.

Or, something else

Or maybe, on that cool Friday night, it was something else that struck a cord.

Maybe it wasn’t what was lost that day that came flooding back to me — but what was gained.

Maybe it was the two young fans walking into the Western stadium with an American flag draped across their back.

Maybe it was the student section, some with red, white and blue body paint, others with outfits bearing the same colors, yet all unified in their goal of patriotic pride.

Maybe it was seeing that, knowing most, if not all of them, were too young to even remember what happened that day.

Maybe it was saluting those military members, those firemen, police officers and first responders, a volunteer force better than any this world has to offer.

My greatest fear about Sept. 11, 2001, is that with time, the memories will fade, the pain of what took place that day will slowly be forgotten as one generation passes on to another.

Or maybe not.

Maybe that’s what struck me at Western last weekend, that 14 years later, in a country as politically divided as its ever been, there was one simple message on display.

On a day when the hashtag #NeverForget could be seen and heard everywhere, there was a ceremony to honor those that died, but to celebrate what we still are.

A collection of free people, who can serve if desired, protect the streets if willing, teach, coach, play a game or sit in a press box and broadcast it.

We weren’t conservative or liberal, right or left, heck, even Panthers or Redhawks.

Down, but not out.

Weary, but willing to fight forward.

For 10 or 15 minutes of sheer emotion, we were simply Americans.

And there’s no better feeling than that.

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