HERSHEY -- One by one, West York's football players approached the railing that separated the fans from the field. The whole town seemed to be here. Parents. Siblings. Classmates. Neighbors. Teachers. The line stretched for about 75 yards.
All these people had come to Hersheypark Stadium. They sat in the cold. They watched a Bishop McDevitt team beat West York, 21-10, in the District 3 Class AAA championship game. And they stayed until the very end, reaching out to slap hands with every player.
This is how a town says goodbye to 24 seniors.
This is how West York says goodbye to a special team.
Big Brody Kern. Speedster Zack Smith. Running back Brock Snellbaker all walked through the line. Some of them looked like robots, trying to navigate the long line and keep their emotions in check.
For many players, they pulled it together as they walked off the field. They held back the tears as they slapped hands. For many, they held it in until mom or dad reached over the railing and pulled them in close. And then there was no holding back.
Still, even though they are only teenagers -- complete with mood swings and tempers -- some of them understood what they had just experienced.
"That was just awesome," West York quarterback Brandon Kinneman said. "We have the best community in the state I think, just the fan support that we get week in and week out."
Kinneman tilted his head back and motioned to the concrete and aluminum bleachers towering over him.
"I mean look, we almost filled this giant stadium," Kinneman said. "Out of everything, you remember that, because of what they do for us all the time."
They wanted a championship more than anything. Still, losing in this fashion, to a three-time district championship team, meant something more than just the end.
"A couple weeks from now, a month from now, we'll look back and realize how special what we did was," Kinneman said. "But it's going to take a little bit for that to set in, because right now it's tough."
Kinneman said big expectations for this senior class began when they were about 8-years-old. Back when Kern -- who now stands 6-foot-2 and weighs 278 pounds -- played fullback. Even then, this group of two dozen players knew they had something special.
"Their families, their parents are all about the same age," West York coach Ron Miller said.
"They've gone everywhere together. They've done baseball teams. They've done basketball teams. That team has literally grown up (together) since they were infants. When you have a group that big -- that's done so many things together -- good things are going to happen."
Miller had zero academic issues with this unit this year.
He had zero issues enticing players to spend extra time in the weight room.
He had zero issues finding players willing to perform community service.
And then Miller paused.
"That's the stuff that's important," he said.
When he arrived in West York seven years ago, Miller wanted to transform West York into a state-recognized program. He modeled the program after District 3 powerhouse Manheim Central. And he worked 365 days a year at being coach.
He has built the best big-school program in the York-Adams league.
Still, some years end with a loss.
Some might write that West York lost to the best Class AAA team in the state. Some might say Bishop McDevitt is one of the best teams in the country. But losing, and watching all these seniors walk off the field for the final time, it's a grind.
"Yeah, it's tough," Miller said. "High school football, to play at this level, to get yourself to Hersheypark, high school football has become a year-round job."
Miller and his team poured everything into one more season. And it wasn't enough, at least on the stat sheet. The season ended with a loss. But Miller had the same type of response his senior quarterback did when asked about the game. They may not have won the gold medals, but that doesn't mean this season -- this group -- didn't do something special.
"Obviously I wanted to put a district gold medal around their neck, but you know what, they've already won," Miller said. "They've won so much. I feel bad right now, but we did some special things for some special people."
And if you looked around Hersheypark Stadium after the game, you could see some of them. Standing there at the railing, they reached out to congratulate their players one last time.
Jim Seip is a sports reporter for the Daily Record/Sunday News. Reach him at @JimSeip, firstname.lastname@example.org, 771-2025.
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