Kyle Troutman: From the stands to the sidelines

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

There is not much more painful for a prep athlete, especially a senior, than a state semifinal or state final loss.

The Cassville football team has unfortunately endured both in the last two seasons, and while the final result did not come to fruition, there is plenty to be said about what the back-to-back Final Four appearances mean to the storied program.

I’ve covered the Wildcats week in and week out now since the 2014 season, and Cassville is among the dozen-plus high school teams I have written about for newspapers in Arkansas and Missouri — and the Wildcats are special.

Maybe it’s because I have covered Cassville for so long and with such consistency, but there is a long list of things that make the program stand out in my mind.

Starting from the outside and moving in, one of the things on my list is the fanbase and its unfaltering support. About 250 fans made the trip 290 miles to the north Saturday to support the Wildcats, and they were as loud as ever. Enthusiasm from Cassville fans at road games is not par for the course for prep clubs. It is beyond the norm.

Some of that enthusiasm is drummed up by just one man, a voice all Wildcat fans recognize — Todd Hoppes. At every game, you can find him at the very top center of the Wildcats’ stands. He leads the “Cassville — Wildcats” call and response chant during the coin toss, and he tosses in others throughout the game. My favorite by far is the “freight train — choo choo” chant when one of the Cassville backs steam rolls a tackler.

When you get down on field level, there are even more sights and sounds that make Cassville football all its own.

One sight is the small contingency of Cassville super fans with sideline privileges, guys like Jerry Lyall, Kelly Wade and Trent Hobbs. Jerry is a bit more subdued in his cheering, but Kelly and Trent are tough to miss when an exciting play happens or the game is on the line defensively.

Another sight you can count on is the high school and athletic administration huddled near the end zone closest to the ball. If you listen closely, you can hear the group predicting offensive plays for Cassville and for the week’s opponent, many times being right on the money.

Closest to the sideline, you can find the stat keepers, all of whom have some connection to or impact at the district. Out of all of them, you hear the most out of Ken Latschar. On every kickoff or kick after a score — for the last three years and without fail — Ken will be standing at the opposing goal line and repeat the same phrase, “Come on, Drake. Bring it on down here. Nail that puppy.”

I don’t know if kicker Drake Reese has ever actually heard or recognized Ken saying it, but if I was superstitious, I bet the phrase is one of the drivers of all Drake’s touchbacks over the past three seasons.

At the heart of the program are its coaches: Lance Parnell, Clay Weldy, Robbie Artherton, Josh Schmitt, Mark Elliot, Ben Glidewell and Derrion Donson. This group is widely respected, and for good reason.

Their eyes were all red for at least a short time on Saturday as the season came to a close. The emotion showed by the coaches after such an outstanding battle and heartbreaking loss drive home the mantra the team preaches about family.

At every post-game huddle, just before going over jersey return and next week’s schedule, Parnell says the same thing. More or less, the speech goes, “We are a family. Be smart and do not do anything in the next week to hurt your brothers and this family.”

Many football programs, and other athletic programs for that matter, claim and preach the “family” mentality, but not quite as many live up to the mindset as the Wildcats.

Parnell put it best in the booth while doing his radio interview Saturday. He said, “I have three daughters, and I love them dearly. But, I also have a lot of sons.”

As he let that second sentence go, his voice broke, and the emotion of the moment again hit home.

Saturday’s fourth quarter was unquestionably the best 12 minutes of high school football I have ever had the privilege to witness, let alone cover.

While the score was not on your side, Wildcats, rest assured that everyone in the state knows you gave it your all, and it’s an effort that will not be soon forgotten.

The entirety of Wildcat Nation — from the stands to sidelines — is behind you 1,000 percent. We can’t wait to see what next season brings!

Kyle Troutman is the editor of the Cassville Democrat. He may be reached at 417-847-2610 or at editor@cassville-democrat.com

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