Segment benefits community
There are few football coaches who would be moved to tears of joy over a 1-9 season. But, despite coaching a game that typically values wins above all else, Sunshine’s Jonathan Jenkins can scarcely contain his emotions when he reflects upon what he considers a successful season.
That success had little to do with what took place on the field. His team failed to meet its goal of winning the region. Jenkins thought that goal to be attainable; especially in comparison to some of the other objectives the team put forth for itself.
So what made a 1-9 campaign so remarkable?
Jenkins’ feelings in that regard are predicated almost entirely upon that one team goal he believed impossible.
While compiling their preseason benchmarks, the Sunshine Tigers determined that they desired to be featured on television.
“Those kids back in spring training had put on their goals to be on television,” Jenkins said. “They expected to be on ‘Friday Night Blitz.’”
The team’s desire to be on “Friday Night Blitz” was soon answered in a very unexpected manner when it was informed it had been selected to be featured during NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” as part of the Toyota Line of Scrimmage promotion.
“The reaction within the school was the culmination of a dream,” Jenkins said of the response by the team and much of the student body after seeing the segments air in late November and early December. “It wasn’t loud. It wasn’t boisterous. It was a calm pride.”
Jenkins said Sunshine students frequently played the YouTube clip of the segments on loop in the school computer lab.
“Nobody was ashamed of how they were portrayed,” Jenkins said of the reaction of the specific players featured in the segments.
The team was 1-5 when the Toyota Line of Scrimmage crew arrived in Newbern during the first full week of October.
“There were no more wins left in the season,” Jenkins said of a fact that failed to define the impact the occurrence had on his team. “That week was a turning point in the season.”
His team went 0-4 the rest of the way. However, Jenkins said his players had a new bounce, a new confidence and an unparalleled excitement that all stemmed from its time with the Line of Scrimmage crew.
“The Line of Scrimmage people, they treated a bunch of rural, underprivileged kinds on a — at that time — 1-5 team as if they were on a 50-game winning streak,” Jenkins said. “(The Sunshine players) were each treated with the greatest of respect. You cant ask for more, you really can’t. It was just incredible.”
The Tigers season had long been over when the clips eventually aired on NBC. However, unbeknownst to Jenkins, the ride for Sunshine High School was just beginning.
“We had a few faculty members that came in with a lump in their throat,” Jenkins said of the in-school reaction to seeing the segments air on national television. Still, Jenkins was unprepared for the barrage of phone calls that would soon be patched through to him.
“It was the phone calls that started to come in,” Jenkins said.
One such call came on Monday, Dec. 8, the day after the second clip aired. This call, according to Jenkins, came from a man in Michigan who graduated from SHS in 1973.
“He said, ‘Coach, that’s my school. My school has been on television,’” Jenkins said describing what soon became an emotional dialogue between the two. “When he finally got control again he said, ‘No place deserved it more.’”
Another call came from a man in Atlanta who had played under Jenkins during his time as an assistant coach at Linden High School.
“It was just touching base with people you hadn’t seen in a while which was a personal plus,” Jenkins said.
Calls continued to pour in from across the nation over the ensuing weeks. There were many people who called to offer their support. Some sought to make monetary donations to the football program. Others wanted to contribute various types of equipment. One caller from Texas told Jenkins to provide him specifically with a list that included not just everything the program needed, but rather, what it wanted.
While the phone calls have died down now and the experience has moved toward becoming a fond memory, Jenkins still values it and the lessons he learned from it.
“In my eyes, that was an impossible goal. All the other goals seemed realistic,” Jenkins, who has begun to define the impossible differently, said.
“This was a total gift of God to be involved in it because it’s not an application process. They pick you. We were only 1-9, but God, through the Toyota Line of Scrimmage program, blessed us.”