MUNSTER | As Lake Central's football players charged onto the field Friday night at Munster, a long train of emotion, hopes and dreams surrounded them. The white uniforms with blue trim had been earned by blood and sweat and tears.
If you don't think this game was HUGE for all in the Tritown community, you weren't there. Student sections like the ones the Indians played in front of usually don't happen until regionals.
Most uniform numbers are handed out by whoever is next in line in a certain position. The "one" worn by senior Drew Hollingsworth wasn't a who's next digit. That number meant the world to the shifty tailback.
It was the number worn by his father, DeRon Atchinson. The father who was killed in a drive-by shooting two weeks before Hollingsworth was born.
"I never got a chance to know my dad," Hollingsworth said. "It meant everything to me to get this number. I feel like I'm closer to him when I'm on the football field. The game brings us together."
Hollingsworth did not have a great game against the Mustangs' solid defense. Except for his last carry of the game. It was likely the biggest touchdown in the program's history. In the last decade anyway.
"Coach gave me an opportunity and I had to make the most of it," he said. "All I was thinking about was the end zone."
Hollingsworth took a handoff from David Yancey and sprinted around the left side and up the side, tip-toeing into paydirt. It gave the Indians a 28-21 overtime win. The biggest school without much success finally got some. And in Week 1, that means even more.
Actually, on the opening kickoff it was Hollingsworth who made the opening tackle near the 20. It was obvious he wasn't playing for just himself.
"I think that set the tone," said Drew's mother, Danielle Hollingsworth-Madsen. She was the young mother talking to the father of her first child. He was at a pay phone. She heard the gun fire that killed him. The game of football also brings her back to a different time.
"I know Drew plays for his father," Danielle said. "It brings a tear to my eye. I know Drew plays with the same heart that his father did. Every time he goes out, he's playing for him."
Chris Galbreath of Steger was DeRon's best friend. They played football together at Rich Central and went to college at Southern Illinois. He came to Munster for one reason.
To see his godson wear No. 1.
"Drew has the same number, the same mannerisms, he walks the same way and he holds his hands the same way," Galbreath said. "When I see him play it's like I'm watching a game from 20 years ago."
Hollingsworth symbolized his team. Trying to find a way to win after a tough night. He did. They did. Certainly someone somewhere is smiling down right now.
"This team wants to turn this program around so bad, that's why we've worked so hard," Hollingsworth said. "That's why we push our bodies to the limit every day. This win means the world to us. But there's more to come."
On this night, anyway, Lake Central and Hollingsworth is No. 1.
This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.