Nelson Mandela once said, “Sport has the power to unite people in a way that little else does”.
That rings true more than ever in small towns and big towns. Sports do not discriminate.
In the state of Kentucky, we are one big commonwealth, or many communities linked together by a state border who come together for the common good of one another. In this state, sports fans sometimes throw around the phrase “From Pikeville to Paducah” to signify the importance of every team and every person who lives in Kentucky.
When it comes to high school sports in Kentucky, it isn’t just a hobby or activity to go watch; it’s a way of life. As I have recently found out, it is the backbone of a small town in Kentucky called Mayfield.
Until a few years ago, I had not heard much about the town of Mayfield. Back in December of 2021, a tornado ripped through the streets of the town, killing many residents and changing thousands of lives forever. Homes were flattened, small local businesses that have stood for decades caved in, and miles of neighborhood landscape destroyed.
While this disaster made national headlines, it never really impacted me the way it should. With Mayfield being over four hours away from the Lexington/Richmond area, far-western Kentucky can sometimes be forgotten in the 859.
It wasn’t till February of 2022 when I got to visit Mayfield for the first time. One of my classes at EKU was assigned to do a story on the National Guards help and recovery processes in Mayfield since the deadly tornado, and that story required boots on the ground.
A few weeks later some classmates and myself departed on the long drive to Mayfield from Richmond. When we finally arrived, we pulled off into some neighborhood streets and looked out the car window at thousands of pounds of debris still piled up and many homes decimated.
When I opened the car door, the first thing I saw was another car door; this one fifteen feet high still stuck in the weak branches of a dead tree.
The town still had so much farther to go. While I could talk for hours about the absolute life-changing destruction that I witnessed that day, what really began a friendship from afar was my love for sports.
As the day was nearing its end and interviews with surviving residents and national guardsmen had taken place, the long night drive back to Richmond was about to begin, until something special caught my eye.
My classmates and myself drove past a football stadium I can only describe as “movie-like”.
This stadium is known as the CFSB War Memorial Stadium, home of the now 13-time state champion Mayfield Cardinals football team.
While I only got a 30 second window to look at this stadium from the adjacent road, I could tell there was something magical about it. The old white brick, the brown grass field, the history of seeing 12 state championships painted on the back, it was all just a sight to see. Little did I know at the time how much that place and the team it hosts on Friday nights meant to the local community.
Arriving back in Richmond, I began doing some research. Come to find out, the Mayfield Cardinals are top five in all time wins; in the United States. You heard that correct, not just the state, but nationwide. Male High and Highlands High are both also in the top five, but those two stood out for different reasons. Male is in Louisville and Highlands is just a stones throw from Cincinnati.
I immediately wondered how a place with a population of around only 10,000 could produce such good football to maintain a level of winning that consistently every single year. The realization hit me. That town lives and breaths high school football.
Not to take away from all the great local businesses and other teams in the Mayfield area, but Mayfield football is what some people live and breathe year round. To see so many people of all ages care about a small town high school football team is special.
Seeing a game under the lights at the War Memorial Stadium may be even cooler. Trucks pull up to the chain fence which backs up right behind the left end zone and fans have pig roasts mere feet from the field. Other fans set off fireworks in the grass tailgate area at the beginning and end of big games. Friday nights at War Memorial just seem like an old school football movie.
Thanks to some new found friends at Red Helmet Video, I was able to go back and watch a few big games the past season. The announcers for Red Helmet are Brad Morris and Jason Burkeen who love Mayfield Football, so much so that they sometimes scream and yell just like the fans they sit beside while broadcasting the games. That kind of passion can seem crazy to people and at times it is fun to listen to, but it is also a testament to how much they and all the Mayfield fans care about the football team.
After a few big postseason wins this year for Mayfield, I reached out to the RHV crew and told them that I think they do a fun and outstanding broadcast. The commentary is of course biased, but they mention that and they are just fans who love Mayfield football. In the broadcasting world, this is a unique production through and through, which just adds to the mystique of the team and friendship which came shortly after.
Mayfield made it back to the state championship this year and they were my pick to come out of 2A as of the day the regional championships started. This meant RHV and the Mayfield community who had been through a tough year and a half, got the chance to come to Lexington and compete for state title 13. On Friday, two worlds finally got the chance to collide. I met Jason, Brad, and RHV cameraman Doug Sims at Kroger Field pregame and was graciously invited onto their state championship pregame show which was viewed by thousands of fans all around the world who love Mayfield Football.
As the game was about to begin, I began to gather clips for my next sports segment on TV, but also some good clips to get incase Mayfield was able to win state. I wanted fans and players to be able to have those memories forever. Thankfully, Mayfield won one of the best state championship games in recent memory over Owensboro Catholic 53-48. The story was complete. The community who had been through hell and back with some having so much stripped from them, finally got to come together as one and celebrate a state championship.
I didn’t get paid a penny to go cover the Cardinals on Friday, but being able to give back to the team and community through some coverage and seeing them win a state title was all the payment I could have truly asked for. That team, that fanbase, that community truly deserved it more than anyone.
A team of champions was born, history was made, and a four hour media friendship was created from Richmond to Mayfield.
While still separated by over four hours, my support for the community of Mayfield is cemented. I hope to soon come down and see for myself the true magic of a Friday night game at the CSFB War Memorial Stadium with my new friends from Red Helmet Video.