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San Angelo Standard-Times (Texas)
The Class 2A Bronte Longhorns have yet to win a football game this season, but they scored a big off-field victory with their fans prior to last month's homecoming game against Irion County.
Every Bronte player dressed for the game — all 19 of them — came charging out from their inflatable run-through carrying American flags. The video, which was posted on Facebook and picked up by an Abilene TV station, drew 25,000 views before that weekend ended.
"Our kids are very patriotic. They take a lot of pride in our little town," said Amy Chumney, who helped round up the American flags just hours before the homecoming game.
It occurred a week after the war of words between President Trump and NFL players began about their conduct during the pregame national anthem. The movement of kneeling during the anthem was started last year by San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick over his view of police mistreatment of black males. The movement had mostly subsided when Trump said at a Sept. 22 rally that NFL owners should fire players who kneel during the anthem. The president's comment rekindled Kaepernick's movement as more players knelt in response. Some NFL owners knelt in locked arms with their players and coaches prior to the anthem, but stood during it.
Trump vs. NFL caused much public controversy, especially in rural Middle America. Many adults in Bronte thought their players carried the flags as a statement against the kneeling NFL players.
However, senior quarterback and safety Tanner Bedford said that wasn't necessarily the case. It seems these 19 teenage boys from Bronte thought at a higher level and rose above the adults on both sides of Trump vs. NFL.
"We did it for various reasons. We don't think either side is right or wrong in the NFL thing. We wanted to show that we are supportive of America, and the fact that we live in a country where we can do this freely and work through our issues and problems," Bedford said.
"It was about our team unity. If all of us run out with a flag, we're all equals."
Bedford said the Bronte players got the idea from seeing a Twitter video of another high school team - he didn't recall where - carrying American flags while running on the field. While decorating their gym that Thursday night for the homecoming pep rally, Bedford and senior guard/linebacker Cade Chumney approached his mom to see what she thought.
Amy Chumney, a substitute teacher at Bronte, liked the idea.
"It made me proud of those little guys that, in all the craziness going on with the NFL, our boys wanted to stand up for their own beliefs," said Amy Chumney, who in addition to Cade has a daughter, India, who is a Bronte cheerleader.
"It was not a school-affiliated decision. It was 100 percent the kids."
With help from Joni Busby, another cheerleader's mom, 19 American flags were rounded up Friday afternoon before the game.
"The Lions Club puts up flags downtown for holidays and special occasions, and we borrowed their flags. The rest came from people with yard flags," Amy Chumney said.
She told school superintendent Tim Siler, but by all accounts, no other school administrators, faculty, staff or even students knew the Longhorns planned to run on the field carrying American flags.
"That's how we wanted it. We wanted it to be a surprise," said Bedford, who also is president of Bronte's student council. "There was a lot of hype for homecoming so we thought it was pretty cool to show that the football team is unified."
Rocky Rawls, a Bronte coach for 35 years and the school's athletic director for the last eight years, didn't know about the flags.
"None of us knew. It was just done," Rawls said. "That's the kind of kids we have here. They're patriotic. They know right from wrong. They don't always do the right thing, but they're raised that way and taught that way.
"These kids here, they get it. Small towns get it. They've been brought up since kindergarten to know that patriotic matters are important."
Feedback from this community of 980 residents to its football players has been overwhelmingly positive.
"I've heard nothing but good things," said Cade Chumney, who runs a check-out register and cleans the meat market at Hall's Super Save Food in Bronte. "At the grocery store, I've had several people come up and tell me they appreciated what we did."
In addition to the overall gesture, Rawls was impressed with how the Bronte players respected the flags.
"They were all busting through the run-through, but none of their flags touched the ground. Even after they ran on the field, they rolled the flags up like you're supposed to, and they never touched the ground," Rawls said.
Bronte (0-6) has two remaining home games - Oct. 27 against Winters and Nov. 10 against Albany. There's talk of the Bronte players all carrying American flags for one or both of those home games. But the players hadn't decided as of this week. This already was a unique season because it will be Bronte's last as an 11-man team before next year's move to six-man.
Now, it will be unique because the unified action of 19 teenage players rose above the behavior of bickering adults.
"We may have a small football team in terms of numbers and size," Amy Chumney said, "but they have big hearts."
Mike Lee writes a high school football column on Fridays during the season. He can be contacted at michaellee7 @att.net.
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