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Clark, Southard 8th-graders come together as Panthers

Clark 8th-grader Quiani Hutchinson

When Southard Middle School opened two years ago, the sports immediately developed a friendly rivalry with their crosstown counterparts at Clark.

“A little healthy competition is always good for developing athletes,” Head Football Coach Ervin Chandler said. “Rivalry is a good thing and teaches you a lot.”

Calee Shipp and cheer team add pep to ceremony,

But now, it’s time for those 8th-graders to put aside their rivalry and come together as they head to Lovelady High School, which will open as the district’s 9th-grade center in the fall.

“It’s time to take away the divide that exists between two schools competing against each other,” Coach Chandler said.

To do this, the football program established a new 8th-grade football commitment ceremony, which was held in the PHS main gym. Created to have the same excitement and feel as a college signing, the commitment ceremony gave the middle school players a unique experience, complete with a cheer spirit line and signing table.

“Tonight is a great opportunity to learn how a signing process works and what it means to make a commitment, especially if we are ever lucky enough to play in college,” Southard 8th-grader Logan McGill said. “But it’s also about committing to Princeton, so it’s a great experience.”

Coach Chandler wanted the players to feel unified.

“It was a night to bring all our players together from Southard and Clark, and show them what it means to be a Princeton Panther,” he said.

Logan McGill signs his commitment.

Coach Larry Edgemon detailed the requirements of being a Panther, which focused on grades, work ethic and character, and the players received a certificate commemorating the event that signified moving to the next level.

“I am excited because this means we are moving up, and it will be our first year of high school,” said Southard 8th-grader Ja’keylen Montgomery Perkins. “High school football is going to be lit. I just love playing football so I’m thankful to still get to play.”

Lovelady Principal Javonna Bass welcomes her incoming 9th-grade football players.

Logan said he is ready for what comes with playing high school football.

“I am excited for the training we will be doing at the high school,” Logan said. “It will continue to be a little harder, but we will be learning a lot and it’s all about making our overall football experience better.”

Senior players clap for the new Panthers.

According to Coach Chandler, playing together is the key component of the commitment ceremony.

“They have spent the last few years playing against each other, but we want them to know it’s no longer Clark vs. Southard,” Coach Chandler said. “We are all Princeton Panthers, and they need to learn to play like it.”

Enzo Bingham signs.

The players think this will be a positive transition.

“It might take getting used to at first, but in the end, I think we will have really good relationships between Clark and Southard, and I am looking forward to making new friends and teammates,” Logan said.

Ja’keylen agreed.

Coach Chandler talks to parents.

“We are all going to become closer and become one unit when we get to the freshman center,” Ja’keylen said.

Clark 8th-grader Rafe McComack added, “We’ve all played together before so it’s going to be good to be back together again.”

Southard players enter ceremony through spirit line