High school football season is almost here, and while fans will be counting up the wins and the losses for their team, the game extends beyond the lines and means more than the numbers on the scoreboard.
Football is rich in tradition.
As the oldest high school in the county, Cherokee boasts the deepest well of tradition.
Former students of the school, which opened in 1956, recall dancing around bonfires, Friday pilgrimages to the Warrior Room at the Canton Drugstore or the Burger Chief, a humorous mascot called “Squat” and a totem pole made by an art class.
Jack Goodwin, who graduated from Cherokee in 1969 and later sent his children to school there, fondly recalls the memories.
“I was always involved in it,” he said. “I guess from the time I was 5 years old, my dad was taking me to the football games to watch Cherokee. A lot of pride there. Back then, it was the only high school in the county and you grew up wanting to go there and be a part of it.”
One of the most long-standing traditions at Cherokee is the arrival of the Warrior princess on horseback. Some years she has thrown a spear, in others she has simply led the team onto the field before each home game.
“At one time we had both a male and a female mascot,” Goodwin said. “Then we have people ride horse at the games and throw the spear. It just brings a great energy in school pride. It’s a hard thing to describe because it’s such a great feeling. When I hear the alma mater, I still gladly stand up and sing. I remember every word.”
The homecoming parade is another strong tradition at Cherokee. Each year, thousands of spectators line the streets of Canton as homemade floats parade down Main Street.
Danny Cronic, who started his Hall of Fame coaching career at Cherokee in 1974, said the program will always hold a special place for him. Cronic, who stayed at Cherokee just four seasons, went on to coach at LaGrange, Forsyth Central, East Coweta, and is now the head coach at Reinhardt University.
“There was just so much passion,” he said. “It could have been because I was so young, but everyone seemed to have it. Everyone loves Cherokee. I could go on and on about it.”
While some of the traditions have died over the years, — such as painting an old car the colors of the opposing team during homecoming week and beating it with a sledge hammer — others have come along. Goodwin recalls coach Jeff Hollis beginning the tradition of burying a piece of turf from the opposing team’s field when the Warriors won on the road.
“We would take that piece of turf back to Cherokee and bury it in a little graveyard,” said Goodwin, who doesn’t know if the tradition lives on. “I know it was going on for many years. The kids just loved that.”
Goodwin, and many like him, have been a part of a dedicated group of fans, known as The Road Warriors, who travel to see Cherokee play, regardless of the site.
Another more recent tradition is the student section at Tommy Baker Field. Known as The Tribe, students dress in red, white and black and turn out in great numbers with shakers made from milk jugs to cheer on the team.
While Etowah was the second high school in the county to open, it wasn’t until Sequoyah was built in 1990 that Cherokee had a rivalry.
“At one point it was important to win as many games as you could, but most importantly you had to be competitive with Sequoyah and if you could beat them that was even better,” Goodwin said. “It was fun having a rivalry.”
One thing the Cherokee football team has never had an abundance of was success on the field. The school’s overall record is 223-352-7 for a .389 winning percentage, but that has not mattered when it comes to drawing a crowd.
“They may not always win, but they stay competitive,” Goodwin said. “Cherokee High School has always had a great place in my heart. Some of my best days were in that building, whether it be for me or my children, there are lots of great memories there. I guarantee that opening game, the stands will be full no matter how they play and the second game will be the same. It just doesn’t change. People from Cherokee have pride and tradition.”
Other schools have established traditions, such as the Woodstock players taking the field through the “Woodstock Woodshed” and players at Creekview making the “Grizzly Walk” from the high school into the stadium.
Most programs have team dinners on either Thursday or Friday nights.
River Ridge, the county’s newest high school, which opened its doors just five years ago, has yet to establish a tradition, according to football coach Robert Braucht.
Cherokee vice principal Pam Andes said there might be a reason so many of the new schools haven’t built traditions.
“Back years ago, there was nothing to do in Canton, Ga., except go to a high school football game,” Andes, who also attended the school, said. “There would be cars parked everywhere and that stadium packed. Even now, it’s packed with alumni and old Cherokee County people that still know this is where they are going to be on Friday nights.”