published Monday, October 5th, 2009

McCallie, Baylor honor pair of heroic alums

Have you ever seen a preppy cheer for the preppy from across the river?

For one of the very few times in my career I saw Baylor and McCallie alumni and fans put aside their petty allegiances and cheer for somebody from the other side.

On this occasion -- the rivals' football game Friday at Baylor -- the schools honored two of their alumni -- 2000 graduates Nate Rawlings of Baylor and Penn Garvich from McCallie.

They were there for the football game and to cheer on their respective teams, for which they served as honorary captains. They were there also to be honored for their service to America. Trivial? Perhaps to some. Maybe even petty or, worse yet, meaningless to those who don't yet understand what this county is about.

Here were two young men who served in the armed forces -- one in Iraq and one in Afghanistan -- and they were warmly received by fans clad in both blue and red. There was no difference in the ovation each received. They were applauded more than once, and it was clear to me that they were truly appreciated regardless of their former school colors.

Rawlings was a three-sport letterman at Baylor and served as captain of the football and wrestling teams. He later wrestled and played as a member of Princeton's Ivy League-championship rugby team. He went from ROTC to the Army combat Corps of Engineers and served tours in 2006 and 2008 in Iraq where he received two bronze stars and an Army Commendation Medal. He resigned from active duty as a captain in July of this year.

Garvich was a Mr. Football finalist and made all-state and best of preps teams during his senior season. He was a four-sport letterman and went on to play college football at Furman where he was a four-year letterman. He has served in Korea and was also deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom 2007-09 with the 101st Airborne Division. He is currently stationed at Ft. Campbell, Ky.

It was heartwarming and at the same time spine-chilling to see more than 5,000 people welcome these two young men home and to show their appreciation. Think about it. Like many others, each made his choice knowing he might eventually make the ultimate sacrifice.

I had hoped to see each of them either at halftime or after the game if only to say thanks.

You have to understand. You see, I'm from a different generation and certainly a different era. Back when I took my turn -- had my curly locks shaved and actually marched with many of my peers to the tune of one drummer for one of the first times in my life -- there was much unrest, as much at home as abroad. Soldiers and sailors were looked on by many as second-class citizens. They were castigated by some, cursed and spit on by others. Too many of my generation targeted soldiers as a way of expressing their disagreement with policies made by elected officials.

Maybe it means more to those who have served, even for those of us who were fortunate enough to remain in the good ol' USA while others went to Southeast Asia. Yet I have never been prouder of my heritage or of the younger generations than Friday night when two heroes were recognized, congratulated and honored for the decisions each had made, for what they were and for what they had done.

about Ward Gossett...

Ward Gossett is an assistant sports editor and writer for the Times Free Press. Ward has a long history in Chattanooga journalism. He actually wrote a bylined story for the Chattanooga News-Free Press as a third-grader. He Began working part-time there in 1968 and was hired full time in 1970. Ward now covers high school athletics, primarily football, wrestling and baseball and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling. Over a 40-year career, he has covered ...

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