The battle was between the third-ranked Lynn Bears, perceived as the favorite — or one of the unlikely lower-seeded teams ... including the defending state champions Parrish Tornadoes.
Another storyline had developed with the Tornadoes’ loss in the opening day of the tournament — a loss in the loser’s bracket and elimination from qualifying also pointed to an end of Parrish athletics.
With last month’s announcement from the Walker County Board of Education of Parrish’s closure at the end of the school year, the conclusion of the Tornadoes’ softball season — a part of the athletic program that had become a great source of pride with its elite-level play — would signal the end Parrish athletics.
I can’t say whether or not the gravity of such an event affected the young ladies that took to the field on Thursday. The Tornadoes weren’t going down without a fight and came ever-so close to defeating the Marion County Red Raiders and earning the right to play Lynn for the final qualifying spot.
The few seconds of merriment and celebration by the Red Raiders was quickly ceased as spectators, players and coaches realized what was announced over the public address system: the Parrish Tornadoes have just participated in their final event as an athletic program.
A program that had attained great success in so many of its athletic ventures was no more — with it, years of rivalries, unforgettable memories and scores of talented players in every sport forever became a part of the past.
The affect couldn’t be hidden any longer, as tears flowed down the faces of the Lady Tornadoes and well as their supporters in attendance — many of whom had taken the trip to Montgomery less than a year ago to watch last year’s Parrish squad win the Class 1A state championship.
In an extremely classy and respectful move to a worthy and formidable opponent, Sumiton Christian softball coach Jessica Aderholt and her players requested the Tornadoes join them on the field for a final salute to Parrish athletics, also giving each girl a game ball and a rose while a standing ovation from the crowd added praise to the emotional event.
It was hard not to get swept up in the moment — no matter what side of the fence you were standing on. As someone who has covered Parrish athletics for eight years, it’s sad to see such a program with such a proud tradition and scores of accolades and achievements see its end.
Since the beginning of the new millennium, the Tornadoes have enjoyed a level of success in several sports — capturing two state championships in the process.
In 2003, the Parrish football team captured a 1A state championship when Tony Dixon, Cole Mason and TJ Lake led the Tornadoes into Legion Field and beat American Christian Academy 20-17 for the trophy.
Ten years later, an All-star cast that included Grayson Culverson, Savannah Jones, Mackenzie Morgan and Taylor Winchester left Montgomery’s Lagoon Park with the state title in softball.
There’s been near-misses in other years throughout Parrish athletics.
The 1998 football team lost 24-21 to Brantley in the state championship game and the 1992 football team fell to Billingsley by a single point, 13-12, in the title game.
This year, the boys basketball team advanced to the state championship game after capturing county, area and region gold.
Parrish football has experienced hills and valleys since the 2003 title, but has shown that when brought together by a quality coach, the Tornadoes were playoff contenders — advancing to the fourth round as recently as 2010.
I know I’ll miss hearing the Friday night sirens and the trademark catch phrase “There’s a tornado warning in Parrish, Alabama!” during football season, seeing the “Purple Tornado” dance at basketball games or watching a home run fly over the “Purple Monster” during softball season.
A favorite moment I’ll always take with me came this year, when “Go Parrish” signs and posts on Facebook and Twitter were commonplace along with well-wishes to Walker County’s American Idol contestant C.J. Harris during the Tornadoes championship run in basketball. The two worlds would come together when Harris posted good luck wishes to his former Maddox Middle School and current Parrish coach Heath Burns and the team before the title game on social media.
Obviously, nothing can take away the sorrow felt by so many in and around Parrish High School at the school’s closure — but great memories are priceless and through their many athletic endeavours, the Tornadoes provided plenty to keep their fans smiling for decades to come. Through those memories, Parrish athletics will live forever.
W. Brian Hale is the sports writer for the Daily Mountain Eagle. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.