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Homecomings as more than just a game

“What are you doing?” an angry voice boomed behind me. I jumped and turned around, panicked. “Get out of here you piece of — ” But the man was looking over my head and instead to the football field where the Virginia Cavaliers played the Syracuse Orange (come on, their mascot is seriously a fruit?!) for the annual Homecomings game. I shared a look with the man sitting next to me, John Kenney, before focusing my attention back onto the field.

jk-dmJohn Kenney, or Mr. Kenney as I’ve always called him, looked the same as I’d met him several years ago. I remember walking into his high school classroom and seeing him sit behind his desk with a grand smile. There was always a long line of students waiting to talk to him. While I waited for my turn, I took the time to study the room. The back wall had a history poster, typical of a History teacher, but his side wall was filled with blue and orange memorabilia screaming the words UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA.

“You should apply,” he encouraged few years later. I did and I got in. I’m a third year now. I stood there next to him at Scott Stadium two weekends ago, dressed in a bright blue turtleneck. I was far more invested in a football game than I suspected I’d ever been before.

We played really well. I would be disappointed, but not overly so if we lost at this point, I reasoned as Syracuse made a touchdown in the second round of overtime. We’ve made some miracle plays.

Mr. Kenney leaned down to strategize with his former teammate, Jim, about the play. They were both in town celebrating the 40 year reunion of the University of Virginia Football team along with about 25 other members of the team. “I graduated in January of 1976,” he’d told me proudly. “It’s always nice to be here. My two sons played lacrosse here as well, so it’s always nice to come back to their home.”

A little boy with a Virginia hat on in front of me hopped up and down to keep warm. He screamed in delight when we made a touchdown, sending us into the third over time. I gave him a high five and slung my right arm over Mr. Kenney’s shoulder as we all sang the Good Old Song.

“This is nerve-wrecking.” I complained. I jumped to my feet, as did everyone around me, when Syracuse missed the field goal, keeping us tied at 38 points. Is this happening? Are we actually going to win? The loudspeaker screamed, “TOUCHDOWN BY JORDAN ELLIS!”

Wahoowa.

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