In the past months, the class of 2021 has dealt with many losses, grief, and constant change. Yet in the sea of uncertainty, the Forest Hills Eastern Football team has managed to secure a season full of wins, anchoring our community together even in these times of social isolation.
This season has been full of obstacles; yet, the shorter practices, constantly changing COVID-19 restrictions, and long periods of social distancing have done little to siphon their spirits. Before they could return to practice a few weeks ago, the team maintained their morale and work ethic by constantly zooming with their teammates, watching film, and doing individual workouts. “Coach gave us workouts to do, and we were constantly zooming,” said Kyle Sypien (‘21). “We were away from each other, but still working towards the same goal.”
“[Our team is] pretty motivated on our own, so we were still lifting and conditioning, and working on running through plays. We did what we could,” added John Morgan (‘21).
Despite the amount of implemented restrictions for fall sports, the team has merely been grateful that they can resume their successful season. “We get COVID tested three days a week,” said Varsity Coach Joe Schwander. “It’s gone great… Mr. Sherman and our trainer, Olivia, have done an awesome job of understanding the protocols [and] implementing them. Our players are just excited to have an opportunity to play.” Beyond the excitement of the game, resuming practice has reinstilled a sense of normalcy and community within FHE. “Football aside, [practice] is just an opportunity to be face-to-face with humans, and interacting has been a really positive thing,” coach added. “We’re all equal in that it’s challenging when [times are unpredictable]. It’s mentally hard… [The team] definitely enjoy[s] being around each other… we’re grateful.”
“This is an odd year,” said Grant Lancaster (‘21). “But nothing can really stop us. Nobody’s going to stop us from getting where we want to be.”
And right now, this team wants to be winning the state quarterfinals/regional finals against Cadillac at 1:00 pm on Saturday—their first game since November 13th. “[Cadillac] is very physical up front,” said Coach Schwander, describing their strategy for tomorrow’s game. “It’s going to be key to find out how we match up their guys. We have a lot of offense to run. Some of it will get crossed out right away… we’ll find out if certain things work or don’t work based on physical match-ups… In some sense, all these playoff games are like a boxing match where [we] feel [our] opponents out for the first few rounds.”
Coach’s philosophy of taking the game play-by-play is reflected in his team taking the season game by game: he’s not allowing himself to look beyond Cadillac’s game, even when it’s Ford Field that lies on the horizon. “It’s all coaching cliché, but it’s accurate: You’ve got to control the next day. You can’t go jumping ahead. You’ve got to do the best you can today, and then repeat it. As many times as you can.”
This mantra has certainly been present in all facets of life as we reflect on the past year, and it’s boiled down to the biggest lessons that the team has taken away from this season. “[I learned] just to not take anything for granted,” said Nate Sypien (‘21). “Usually, our [season would have ended by now].”
“I don’t think we’ve really learned anything different this year,” said John Morgan thoughtfully, reflecting on his many years on the team. “We’ve taken what we’ve learned from years prior, and have really gotten to understand how to apply it, to not only football but to everyday life.” As a whole, this year has provided the team with what Kyle calls “a new perspective.”
In enduring the worst, it’s the best that’s been brought out of the class of 2021.
“You never know how any team is going to go when one graduating class leaves and the next group moves up to be the senior group, especially then you throw in the pandemic… [But] our seniors are… exceptional,” said Coach Schwander pridefully. “They’re high character people… that are trying to get better in every phase [of life], not just football. They really care about becoming better men. They screw up and they own it, and they try to improve from it in the same way when they’re playing the game of football… When you have a group of seniors, when they’re really good athletes, but then [also] have a drive to improve and have the humility to receive criticism, it’s infectious throughout your whole team.”
Even though the team tries to live in the moment as much as possible, the four team captains couldn’t help but quickly dwell on the future: a future curated by their superb leadership and steadfast optimism, a future bigger than themselves. “We’re setting the foundation for future classes,” said Kyle. “[Our leadership] is setting foundations and showing future classes what it is to be successful and put work in.”
As best displayed by their team’s journey this year, Hawk Pride is not fostered through continual success and stability, but in having the strength to lead, work, and grow through adversity. In taking the days “play-by-play” and dedicating ourselves to team improvement, we can succeed in what Grant calls the “push for greatness.”
Photos and featured image courtesy of Grant Lancaster and Kyle Sypien.