Chippewa Valley football picks up win, supports troops

By: Jon Malavolti | Fraser - Clinton Township Chronicle | Published September 28, 2011

 The Chippewa Valley football team huddles at midfield before its Sept. 16 home game against Port Huron Northern, which was part of a special fundraiser for the Wounded Warrior Project.

The Chippewa Valley football team huddles at midfield before its Sept. 16 home game against Port Huron Northern, which was part of a special fundraiser for the Wounded Warrior Project.

Photo courtesy of Loretta Miller


Football is often loosely associated to war. Clichés and comparisons such as “battles in the trenches” are sometimes haphazardly tossed around.

The two couldn’t be more different.

“A lot of people compare football to war,” Chippewa Valley coach Scott Merchant said. “There’s no comparisons — we’re playing a game.”

And during their Sept. 16 home game against Port Huron High, the Big Reds paid tribute to those who are currently serving and have served in America’s armed forces. It was the second consecutive year the program has taken part in the Wounded Warrior Project — a charity organization that works to assist injured veterans.

Merchant said he wanted his players to honor the military personnel by the quality of their actions.

“Through effort, like getting knocked down and getting back up,” he said. “Honor these people by how you play. It was a real eye-opener.”

In the end, the Big Reds won their game 21-16, but the final score hardly mattered on the special night. Players donned camouflage-style jerseys, which they got sponsors for, and presented them after the game to someone with military ties to whom they had dedicated the game by listing their name on the back in place of their own. Funds raised by the sponsored jerseys, as well as such items as bracelets and T-shirts sold in conjunction with the game were to be donated to the charity. Sponsors ranged from friends and family members to community members including school administrators and other schools within the district.

Merchant said last year Chippewa raised about $5,000 for the program, and estimated at least matching, or even doubling, that amount this year.

The Big Reds not only raised the funds, but awareness for the effort, education for themselves, and finally, and most importantly, the spirits of their special guests that night.

Merchant said one player dedicated his jersey to his 96-year-old great-grandfather, who served in World War II. The coach said the veteran, who rarely gets out and attended the game in a wheelchair, was emotionally moved during the jersey presentation ceremony following the game, in which his great-grandson gave him the jersey he had just worn. Merchant described the postgame jersey presentation as a “pretty powerful moment.”

“It meant a lot to him,” Merchant said about the great-grandfather. “He was really proud to be there.”

Before the game, each player explained to their teammates who they were playing for and why.

“They learned about the Korean War and World War II, learned about family members who served,” Merchant said. “To me, athletics are educational. From an educational standpoint, I thought it was really good.

“And it was great we could support a charity. I think the project is a great charity; I think our veterans deserve to be supported and need our help.”

Representatives from the Army, Navy and Marines attended the game, setting up tents and displays around the stadium. A full color guard was also in attendance, according to Merchant.

Before the game, a cousin of a player who is currently stationed in Germany appeared in a video message on the stadium scoreboard screen along with her unit to thank the players for their support. The coach also said the parents of a former player who is deployed overseas were the honorary captains for the pregame coin toss.

Following last year’s game, Merchant said another former Chippewa student contacted him via email while serving in Iraq after hearing about the game, explaining to the coach that the event gave him “a boost” and “brought a little bit of normalcy to his life overseas.” The coach said he later sent the player one of the jerseys from the game, which last year were specially decorated in red, white and blue.

“The awareness and appreciation for what our armed services do on a daily basis so we have the ability to go out and play a game like football and not take our freedom for granted, I think those things are really important,” Merchant said.

“The nice thing was our whole school and community got involved,” the coach continued. “It was bigger than football. We used football as a vehicle to get people to rally around it.”

Merchant said he got a lot of help from the school’s student government, athletic department and parents, and hoped to make the game an annual tradition.

“I think it’s important we all realize and our kids realize that we’re all very fortunate, and it’s out job to help those that can’t help themselves,” the coach said. “Our kids realized, at least for a moment in time, how blessed we really are.”