Pearson praises Girard family

CANTON — The echoes of Cincinnati Wyoming celebrating echoed in the distance, on the other end of Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium.

Girard coach Pat Pearson had to fight back the tears as he kneeled and addressed his team one last time this season. He took off his black visor at the end.

The 42-14 loss to the No. 1-rated Cowboys in the Division IV state title game wasn’t what was weighing on his mind, it was a last bit of cohesiveness which made Pearson melancholy. He had to say goodbye to his seniors. The tears still lasted in the postgame news conference where he was flanked by two seniors on either side.

The forlorn looks gave it away.

It wasn’t a time for sadness. Sure, the score didn’t reflect the heart and soul this team had all season. It never does in these outcomes.

Pearson reminded these outgoing seniors they were part of the brotherhood, a special organization for those legendary figures to wear the Girard uniform – displaying those black and red colors so proudly week after week.

“We’re not saying goodbye,” Pearson said. “They’re just changing their role.”

Pearson’s voice cracked as he spoke, telling his team to hold their heads high, along with the Division IV state runner-up trophy they received moments ago. They represented the town of Girard so proudly.

This was a team which held off a Youngstown East team in Week 11, pulled away from a previously undefeated LaBrae team in Week 9 — putting the Indians in the postseason when it looked as if Girard would struggle to make it to Week 11.

The revenge factor was there in Week 12 against Perry and Week 13 versus rival Hubbard in Bo Rein Stadium in Niles, a home away from home for the Indians and their fans. Week 14 was the come-from-behind victory against a strong-willed Licking Valley team, vaulting Girard to this point.

This run, going further than no other football team did in Indians history, was solely about Girard pride. Nothing more, nothing less.

“You guys are part of my family for life, and you know that,” Pearson said in that huddle. “It was never about chasing a ring. It was never about it. With the heart and soul you play with, not only tonight but the whole playoffs, you got it.

“My hat’s off to you guys.”

Literally, he took his black visor off and saluted his team.

He told his team to go over to the Girard student section at the northwest corner of the stadium. It was a solemn walk as some players cried with the face masks and daunting, black Girard helmets hiding their emotions.

It was hard to contain the emotion as hugs were given all around. The front row of the students stood shoulder-to-shoulder in solidarity, significant of this proud, tight-knit community. A red Girard flag waved back and forth between the students elevated in the stands and the team and cheerleaders on the field turf below. No divide, just unity. It’s always been that way.

As each yellow school bus pulled away from the shadow of the Hall of Fame, every senior on that bus was reminded of Pearson’s words.

This journey was taken as not just a football team, but as the entire Girard community, one this coach will never forget — leaving an indelible mark on the Mahoning Valley.

“They’re the most special group I’ve ever been around,” Pearson said. “I love them all like they are my own sons.”

A.J and Ian have a special dad, spreading that love around to so many. In Girard, it’s not extraordinary, it’s just being part of the family.