Fotball teams compete on the field fans see matching helmets and jerseys, which represent a common goal of coming together to win the game.
What they don’t see, however, is the behind the scenes action that forms a bond that no jersey, or helmet could ever match.
The Boaz Pirates have been preparing for the 2020 high school football season under strange conditions just like the rest of the teams across the state. The COVID-19 pandemic has presented coaches and players with an unprecedented set of circumstances. Players have been challenged by finding ways to attend these summer practices.
Freshman football player for the Pirates, Ranai Ortega, is no exception. He travels two miles from his house each day to football practice by bicycle. Until one day when Pirates’ head coach Jeremy Sullivan noticed Ortega was missing from practice. The next day, he attended practice and that’s when Sullivan found out the reason behind his absence.
“When I asked Ranai about it he told me he had been riding his bike to practice each day,” he said. “Then he told me the bike broke, so he was walking to practice. Ranai lives about two miles away. Making that trek in summer heat couldn’t have been fun.”
According to the National Weather Service, Marshall County temperatures during July averaged 90 degrees with heat indexes many days of more than 100 degrees.
Sullivan decided to use this as a teaching moment for his players. Little did he know that it would actually turn into a lesson for himself.
“I told the rest of the team, ‘Ranai has been walking to practice the last few days just to be here,’” Sullivan said. “I told the guys that he has shown the right kind of dedication to the team.”
Soon after Sullivan spoke to his players the team decided to help their fellow Pirate out with his transportation troubles.
“It was one person on the team specifically who wanted to help Ranai out then we all got together and figured out how we could,” senior Pirate Keaton Kennedy said. “We decided to pool some money together and go buy him a bike. Everyone on the team pitched in to make it happen.”
Kennedy said the bike needed an extra aesthetic touch before it was given to Ortega.
“We decided to put some lights on the wheels just so it wasn’t so plain,” he laughed.
Sullivan said the attention the video has gotten from not only Marshall County, but around the country has been “amazing.”
“We put the video on social media and it just exploded,” he said. “My phone is constantly buzzing with people wanting to talk to me about it. I even had a coach from the Stony Brook University football team in New York email me about the video. He showed it to his team as well. It’s just been incredible.”
The Pirates are gearing up for what looks to be a tough 2020 schedule. Sullivan, like most coaches, want to make sure their squad is united and have each other’s back. He doesn’t feel like that’s a problem with this team.
“All you’ve got to do is watch that video and you can see what kind of team we have,” he said. “I didn’t ask any of the players to do that for Ranai. None of the coaching staff did. It’s something the team decided to do, and I couldn’t be prouder of a group of guys.”
Video was taken by Megan Keenum and since then has been seen by thousands on Facebook and Twitter. Some versions of the video have been seen more than 20,000 times.