Tears have been a part of the Red Boiling Springs High School football program for more than six seasons. That's just a matter of fact when you wind up on the losing end of 61 consecutive games.
But last Friday, tears of a different nature came streaming down the cheeks of current and former Bulldogs players, parents, coaches and folks in the community.
Red Boilling Springs' 28-12 season-opening win over Oakdale last week snapped a 61-game losing streak, and that is the early leader in the clubhouse for the feel-good story of the prep season.
"It was an unbelievable scene after the game," said first-year Bulldogs coach Kyle Shoulders. "I had one kid come up to me, with big tears rolling down his cheeks, and he said the win came one year too late. He had been on last year's team and said he wished he could have known what it felt like to win, just one game.
"But he was really soaking up the feeling, even though he had just graduated. I think it meant a lot to a whole lot of people in this community."
Shoulders, a 26-year-old coach who played at nearby Macon County, brought a new attitude into the program. The fact he had not experienced any of the previous 61 losses meant that he entered the preseason with enough optimism to uplift the 28 players on the roster.
Never once since he was hired did Shoulders remind the team of the program's streak of futility. Instead, he simply put them to work through the first set of two-a-day practices in recent memory and never allowed a player to make an excuse for a mistake or a downtrodden attitude.
"These kids had been beaten down for an awful long time," Shoulders said. "We built off every positive you can imagine. We hired a completely new staff and even came in and completely renovated the locker room and everything about the facilities.
"We wanted a completely new attitude, and you could sense that it was working last week."
Red Boiling Springs, a mapdot town nearly three hours northwest of here, clings to the Kentucky border. I made the drive there two years ago for a story contrasting that program with Maryville, which won 74 straight games before finally suffering a loss in last year's Class 4A state title game.
A lonely two-lane road snakes between fields of tobacco, corn and hay and passes more barns than houses before you finally reach the town, which has a post office, a drug store, a Quick-N-Easy gas station and Bray's Family Restaurant, and that's about it. There are no factories or mills, so the residents mostly work and shop 20 minutes away in Lafayette.
The high school sits across the street from a cemetery, a striking symbolism for a program that has compiled a 19-212 overall record since 1986, including a 63-game losing streak before the one most recently snapped. The Bulldogs' last win before last week was in the ninth week of the 2002 season, against Pickett County.
Although the program has had just one winning season in its history, and never qualified for the playoffs, the crowd began to swell after the Bulldogs took a 21-0 halftime lead last week. The score was announced at nearby Lafayette and Macon County games, and many fans not only stood to cheer the halftime score but left those stadiums to come watch the end of the streak.
"We usually don't have a lot of people at the games here," Shoulders said. "But we had to get a police officer to move the people from in front of the fieldhouse door so we could come out for the second half.
"I worried when I took this job that it would be the end of my coaching career. But you can't believe the feeling of helping these kids finally experience a win. It's something they deserved because they worked hard in the offseason and earned. I've taken calls from all over the state from people congratulating us, but it really means more for me to remember the expressions on our kids' faces and the faces of the guys who played here before and never got to experience it.
"This was something the whole community has talked about all week."