December 2, 2020

Rival Football Team and Marching Band Join Forces

Written by Tim Altork – Courtesy of The Randolph Leader

(Randolph County, AL) — Coaches are fond of pointing out how you can learn so much more from a loss than you can from a win. (Which means that Saturday’s Georgia-Auburn game should feature about 200 of the smartest people on earth.)

But it’s not often that an otherwise forgotten loss in the middle of the season would produce the seed for what has easily become the feel-good story of this year’s football playoffs in Randolph County.

On September 25 the Wadley Bulldogs suffered their only loss of the season, a tough 22-20 decision against LaFayette that turned on a long touchdown pass in the game’s final minutes.

Normally in a situation like that the losing team goes through the obligatory post-game handshakes and does its best to leave the game behind them.

But several of Wadley’s players came away impressed with the way that the LaFayette band was constantly and enthusiastically playing in support of its team throughout the game.

“LaFayette’s band is great,” said Wadley head coach Ken Fordham. “They go at it from the time they start on the field to the time they leave. These seniors have never experienced anything like that.”

That’s because Wadley does not have a band and hasn’t for a long time.

As the season went on Wadley kept on winning, and cross-county rival Woodland kept on losing. And one week after Woodland was eliminated from playoff contention, Wadley won its region championship, assuring itself of at least one home playoff game. That’s when the wheels started turning for Fordham.

What if the Woodland band played at the Wadley playoff game?

It was the kind of question that, if pursued, could be fraught with peril. After all, the two schools are rivals that meet on the football field nearly every season. Wadley won this year’s meeting between the two teams. Would having the Woodland band at the Wadley playoff game be picking at sores? Would it be rubbing Woodland’s nose in the fact that Wadley is in the playoffs and Woodland is not?

“I debated long and hard about it from the fact that I didn’t know what the communities would think,” Fordham said. So he started with his own players, floated the idea to them to see what they thought.

“I wanted to make it right with us first so I talked to my seniors about it and I talked with our principal as well,” Fordham said. “Everybody thought it was a great idea.”

Wadley head coach Ken Fordham (back to camera) shakes hands with Woodland band director Dilmos Hamilton after Friday's game (Photo: Christy Fordham)

Wadley head coach Ken Fordham (back to camera) shakes hands with Woodland band director Dilmos Hamilton after Friday’s game (Photo: Christy Fordham)

He then approached Woodland principal Jeff Thompson about the idea, who passed it along to Woodland band director Dilmos Hamilton.

Hamilton liked the idea as well and took it to his band members as well as Woodland head coach Randy Boyd and several of the Woodland football players.

“I asked the kids, let the kids vote. They overwhelmingly were ready to go,” Hamilton said. Boyd and the Woodland coaching staff gave their blessing as well.

Hamilton saw it as a way to show good sportsmanship to a rival school, but also as an opportunity to show a school without a band how beneficial a band program can be.

“It was a chance to go and be an advocate for music education, to try to show them what it was we had here and try to help them get that there also,” Hamilton said.

Woodland band members eschewed their Bobcat orange and blue band uniforms and came to the game decked out in red to support the Bulldogs.

They played all night long. They played through the first two quarters as Wadley dominated Valley Head. They played through the rain and mud on the field at halftime and drew probably the loudest cheers of the night from the grateful Wadley faithful.

“It was unbelievable,” Hamilton said. “We were accepted as if we had been there forever.” And they played in celebration of the Wadley victory.

After the teams prayed together on the field Fordham made a beeline for Hamilton to express his gratitude. Wadley freshman football player Trevor Cameron did an impressive impromptu two-minute dance to the band’s rendition of “Uptown Funk” in celebration of the moment.

And it wasn’t just Wadley football players and the Woodland band in on the act. “A lot of the players from Woodland came to back us up while we were backing [Wadley] up,” Hamilton said. “It was just great. There was not a single negative thing that I can think of out of this whole situation.”

It has been so positive, in fact, that there’s a repeat performance in the works for Wadley’s second round game at home against South Lamar.

“They’ve invited us back,” Hamilton said. There were still some details to work out to make it happen for a second straight week, but this story is good on so many levels. Goodwill and sportsmanship between opponents.

The fact that a bunch of senior band members who thought they were done with their season get a new lease on their high school careers.

And the fact that a high school football stadium that hasn’t had a band in its corner for so many years was finally brought to life in the most unlikely of ways.

“I just hope that people can see that even though we are these rivals that the kids have got to come first,” Hamilton said. “It’s a game, at the end of the day. But when we can benefit both sides from something educational like that then we need to be doing more of it.”

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