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The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, Tennessee)
On the afternoon of Sept. 6, the Lakeland Middle Preparatory School Lions waited and eagerly checked the weather.
Others in Lakeland also worried about the possibility of rain, hoping it wouldn't ruin plans for the town's first ever home football game.
"It brings the community together," said Hayden Kee, 13, the team's starting quarterback. "It's just a very special time for the Lakeland community to support our first ever football team for a second year."
Until Sept. 6, all Lakeland Middle School's football games were played at other sites. Although the new field was finished a week ago, construction is continuing on a concessions stand, a nearby soccer field and more.
The game ended Sept. 6 with a score of 20-14, with Houston Middle School winning.
Having football at home is a way to bring together a small community, said Susan Kee, Hayden's mother.
Before the game, there was "excitement in the air," she said.
"I think Lakeland as a community right now needs that," she said. "Politics sometimes gets in the way. Hopefully this school and football team and the kids can bring the community together. In the end, that's what it's all about. It's about the kids having fun and building those relationships."
The new field is a step toward eventually having a high school and a high school football team for Lakeland, said Tyler White, the team's coach. There are plans to have the high school attached to the current middle school, sharing the same football field, but those plans stalled when some in the community launched a lawsuit over funding for the new high school.
White said that seeing the hype around a middle school football game was "unreal."
"It really means a lot to the community to have something to really take pride in," White said. "The work the community and the board has done to make this come to fruition, it just shows how much they really are behind the football program here at LMPS, and I think it means really bright things for the future."
Superintendent Ted Horrell also said the football game was a step toward Lakeland's vision for the future.
"It was a thrill watching our students play under the lights on the new field tonight, and it was equally exciting watching the big crowd of parents and community members who came out to support them," Horrell said.
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