This Saturday will mark 20 years since the tragic events of 9/11 when terrorists hi-jacked passenger planes and crashed them into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and, because of passengers who fought back, a field in Pennsylvania.
I can remember many things about that day. I was in sixth grade.
Among the things I will always remember is that my second period class was woodshop and that our teacher did not have a radio or TV in his classroom and knew nothing of what had gone on along the eastern seaboard. We eventually convinced him to walk next door to the gym where the coaches office had a TV. He returned a few minutes later and we spent the rest of the class period hearing him talk to us about his remembrances of the day JFK was assassinated.
I also remember how sports played a role in bringing people together in the weeks and months after Sept. 11.
A moment that I remember because it was closer to home was when the students at Texas A&M sold red, white and blue shirts to fill the three levels of Kyle Field for their game against Oklahoma State on Sept. 22. At the time I thought it was impressive to see a stadium full of people wearing red, white and blue based on what level they were sitting on.
The Aggies replicated the red, white and blue game this past Saturday in their season opener against Kent State.
I also remember when professional sports resumed and the outpouring of emotion from fans as they returned to something that felt normal even as it was apparent that these were not normal times.
In my little corner of east Texas, sports played a key role in helping the community come together. In Lufkin we had the Panther football team. Four days before the events of Sept. 11 they had defeated the Beaumont Central Jaguars in the season opener. Three days after Sept. 11 they lost on the road at Shreveport Evangel. In most years people might have been unhappy with a loss from the Panthers. In 2001 the loss to Evangel was taken in stride. We were just happy to have the football game to take our minds off of what had happened in New York and Washington, DC.
In school we made American flag pins as a way to raise money for the first responders back east. We also kept track of how the Lufkin Panther football team was faring on the field.
That loss at Evangel proved to be the last time the Lufkin Panther football team lost a game in 2001. Over the next few months as cleanup continued in New York and Washington D.C. the Lufkin Panthers rolled through their non-district and district schedule.
It generally didn’t take much for the community to show how proud they were of their Panthers, but the 2001 team seemed different. Everywhere you went in town, in the windows of every business were American flags and some type of sign or poster supporting the local team.
Wherever the Panthers played a playoff game it seemed most of the town had travelled for the game, even if it was two or three hours away. The Panthers eventually won the state championship, beating Austin Westlake in the Astrodome on Dec. 22, 2001. It remains the only state championship in football won by the Panthers.
Even after the triumph of the Panthers it was a long time before the American Flags and the signs supporting the Panthers came out of the windows. Some are still there.
Another time I can remember a team and a city coming together was in 2017. That year Houston was hit by Hurricane Harvey at the end of August. Two months later the Astros won their first World Series championship. That championship will always have a special place in the hearts of Astros fans as it helped a city that needed something to be happy about.
That is the great thing about sports. It provides a chance for a community to come together and leave other concerns at the gate for a few hours.