FLS Varsity

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State final coverage (column): This team should keep its head held high

By Adam Himmelsbach

LYNCHBURG—Sometimes it’s easy to forget that they’re just high school students. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that under those helmets, there are boys who love weekends and hate homework.

Teenagers sometimes feel like good moments will last forever, that time does not matter. It’s a feeling that’s both naïve and enviable.

But sometimes when those good moments do end, the pain stings a bit more.

Yesterday afternoon, after James Monroe lost to Brookville in a state championship game, 34–33, the tears came suddenly. Some players were consoled by parents. Some just wanted to be left alone.

One of the best times of their lives had come to a stop, and it was tough for them to stomach.

“I had to get out of [the locker room], because we’re all crying,” JM coach Richard Serbay said. “They don’t teach you that in coaching class. How do you console 40 of your kids when they’re crying?”

At that moment, the best option for the Yellow Jackets coaches was to hug the players and pat them on the back and tell them life will get better.

But sometime soon—maybe during the long bus ride back home, maybe not for a couple of weeks—they will realize there is plenty to be proud of. Regardless of yesterday’s outcome—and make no mistake, it ended about as painfully as a state title game can for the Yellow Jackets—James Monroe still had a season to remember.

This team had a perfect regular season and won a Battlefield District title. It steamrolled through the Region I tournament. It became the highest-scoring JM team in school history.

And yesterday, on a sunny and crisp afternoon at Liberty University, the Yellow Jackets came within a penalty or an extra point or a defensive stop of winning their fifth state championship.

“This feeling won’t ever totally go away, but we’ve still got to live,” senior lineman Bruce Gelabert said. “Through this whole season, I’ve always had my brothers, and today we’re still brothers.”

So many of these Yellow Jackets have been teammates since they played pee wee football together. They have dreamed of seasons just like this one.

On Friday morning, they arrived here together on luxury buses and felt pumped and prepared to win a championship. They went to dinner at Golden Corral and talked about what they needed to do right against Brookville.

But soon after this game began, all that emotion and hope vanished. With more than five minutes left in the first quarter, James Monroe trailed, 17–0.

It was the first time all season that the Yellow Jackets were behind by more than seven points. They didn’t know what it felt like to fight through adversity, because they hadn’t needed to.

But faced with this new and unusual challenge, they responded. Trailing 24–7 in the second quarter, the Yellow Jackets rolled off 26 consecutive points to seize the lead and command of the game.

“We were a completely different team,” lineman Nelson King said. “We got our heads right and were a completely different team.”

But Brookville closed the game with 10 straight points, the final three coming on a game-winning 27-yard field goal with 35 seconds left.

After the final whistle, James Monroe’s fans stood and cheered and chanted Serbay’s name. The Yellow Jackets accepted their second-place medals, and many of them slumped to the turf afterward.

“We have to be as happy as we can,” King said. “I just don’t like second. I hate second.”

The good news is that these players are just teenagers, and they will create plenty of wonderful memories that will diminish the hurt of this one.

When they emerged from the locker room, many of their eyes still quite red, parents and friends were waiting for them at the edge of the field. Some of the fans were holding signs, and some were reliving the game’s brighter moments.

And slowly, some of these Yellow Jackets seemed to realize the magnitude of what they had accomplished, rather than dwelling on the pain from the one thing they had not.

Adam Himmelsbach: 540/374-5442