Fans say Warrior football success brings Lebanon community together

Lebanon High School’s first-ever football championship this year represented a consummation for many loyal Warrior alumni and fans.

A job well done.

Lebanon residents, some of whom have attended Warrior football games for decades, were united in their declaration that the ingredients that went into this championship were strong leadership, good character, and a supportive community.

John “Tré” Kennedy, a local attorney, has been to almost every Warrior football game since he moved to Lebanon in 2006. He played football in high school and college, and has been coaching Lebanon Pop Warner and flag football teams for several years.

“I love the game and what it does for boys,” Kennedy said. “Instead of watching television, you’ve got kids out there playing for the fun of it.”

He was “ecstatic” when the Warriors took the state title, and attributes some of the success to the defensive linemen, who stepped up and played their best game, and to the offensive line, who, he believes, was the team’s strength all year.

“They’re not big, but they all understood their responsibilities and they worked together and made it incredibly easy for the running backs and quarterbacks to get down field,” Kennedy said.

And there has never been a school that has made a round to the state championships without the head coach as an integral part of that, he said.

“It’s an attitude and a desire,” Kennedy said. “It’s basically a confidence [in which] he turns his entire team into a mini copy of him. If a head coach doesn’t have that level of believability and work ethic, the kids never will.”

Winning the state title also bolsters a community that supports its teams, he said.

“There’s such a different feel in a one-school town than other towns that may have two or three high schools; there’s such a sense of pride,” he said. “That’s such a big deal. That’s why small-town football is such a huge deal in those cities and for those populations that only have one school.”

Wyatt King, a local insurance agent who graduated from LHS in 2007, also played football for the Warriors. He proclaims himself to be “Lebanon’s biggest fan.”

“I really believe in this town and what it has to offer, and what it can do,”he said.

King likes to flip burgers in the concession stand with his mom, Edda Zerkel King. When he attended Lebanon High School, he played football while current Head Coach Ty Tomlin was an assistant.  King’s father, Roland King, played football under coach Bud Page, and his brother, Ryan King, played for LHS and now coaches its JV football.

“Lebanon Warrior football is a big part of the King family life,” he said.

He said the state win was “awesome,” and the team’s perseverance was key to its success.

“At the start of the championship game, it was back and forth, and it did not look like it was gonna be a blowout; it looked like it could go either way,” King said. “But we just kept pushin’ and didn’t let any of their scores stop us, and before you know it, our momentum was just rollin’.”

While King enjoyed the game, he also appreciated the level of support by Lebanon fans.

“When you go to the state championship game and you’re seeing the stands half-filled with Lebanon people who have made the trek and are hollerin’, and are rushin’ down to the field to cry in victory with the boys, that’s just something you don’t see in very many other venues,” King said.

The fans and the team proved to King that Lebanon football is special, he said. He recalled a particularly memorable game during a stormy night a couple months ago when the power went out.

“As soon as the power went out in the stadium, every Warrior fan and Warrior football player was on their feet, jumping and hollering,” he said. “Being there with the wind and the rain whipping around, and just hearing maybe a thousand in the stadium cheering and roaring, and being a community together hoopin’ and hollerin’, that’s exactly why I believe in football and go to it. It just brings the community together.”

A couple years ago, when Tomlin was just beginning to build some momentum with his team, King noticed the fans in the stands were a little sparse. Especially during bad weather.

Tomlin holds his players to a standard of success both on the field and off, King said.

“The only thing you want is your coach’s approval, and he has these high expectations for it,” he said. “That shows he believes in you.”

If he doesn’t believe a player can get the job done, he won’t invest his energy in it, King added.

“So you feel that investment, you feel that belief, and it helps you believe in yourself,” he said.

And as the team built on its accomplishments, the community noticed.

When people start noticing a team’s success, they want to surround themselves with that success, he said.

“We’ve probably had more people at that rainy, windy game where things were literally blowing over than we’d had at a fair-weather game three or four years ago,” King said. “Seeing the team bring the community together like that is just amazing.”

King wasn’t the only one to witness a community brought together by a high school team. On the day the Warriors packed up for the drive to Hillsboro, Tim Klient watched the bus roll down Oak Street and up Williams Street.

“There were people everywhere,” Klient said. “It was awesome.”

Klient, a 1984 Lebanon grad who played defensive end in Lebanon’s last championship game in 1982, which the Warriors lost, has been attending games “religiously” for the past 10 to 12 years.

His son, Kody Klient, a junior, followed in his father’s footsteps by playing defensive end and making it to Lebanon’s next championship game after 1982. In another twist of fate, Kody was coached by Don Tomlin, who also coached his father 34 years ago.

And while Klient, a local electrical contractor, said getting the state win was an excellent feeling, he said he prefers it was his son who played the winning game rather than his own team in the ’80s.

Of all the games played this year, he said one of the hardest games was probably against Ashland.

Lebanon was down 22-8 at halftime and nothing was going right, Klient recalled. It could’ve been easy to give up against the hard-nosed Ashland players, but the Warriors stayed strong.

“Ashland was a tough, tough team. For us to make a comeback on that showed a lot of adversity,” Klient said. “That showed the team’s character.”

John Stolsig, a 1952 Lebanon grad, has attended nearly every home game for almost 60 years.

He agreed the Ashland game gave insight into the team’s character.

“I’ve seen other Lebanon teams in the past that maybe had more talent than this one, but I don’t think I’ve seen a Lebanon team in the past that had more heart than this one did,” Stolsig said.

Bill Elliott, a 1950 Lebanon grad who’s been going to the games for about 24 years, said this year’s team has shown an honorable character after a particular game in which the opposing team “played dirty.”

Elliott was “elated” when the Warriors won the title, and was also proud of the support shown by the community, he said.

“We had a great team this year, and I was real proud of the way people turned out [for the games],” Elliott said.