Cherokee Warriors hosted Carver-Atlanta Panthers, opening 29th annual Corky Kell Classic

There were times when it looked as though a high school football season might not be played in Georgia. Spring session was canceled. Summer practices were postponed. Then, the season’s start date was pushed back two weeks.

But at 5:38 p.m. Wednesday in Canton, the first game of the GHSA season kicked off between the host Cherokee Warriors and Carver-Atlanta Panthers.

More: Cherokee 38, Carver-Atlanta 12

The game opened the 29th annual Corky Kell Classic, which this year is a four-day, nine-game event spread across nine different venues. It originally was planned as an 11-game event from Aug. 19-22, played at four venues, including Mercedes-Benz Stadium, before COVID-19 concerns altered the course.

If you focused only on the game action, you might forget that there’s a worldwide pandemic altering our way of life. The players and referees weren’t wearing face masks, and they definitely weren’t adhering to CDC-recommended social-distancing guidelines.

It was a sense of normalcy the high school football community has been craving for months.

“It feels great,” said GHSA executive director Robin Hines, who was on hand. “I’m ready to kick it off, to make sure it’s real. It’s emotional. It’s been a grind. It’s been tough, and we didn’t know if this was going to happen at times. But now, to see all the work the coaches and the school districts have put in to get us here, it just makes it all worth it.”

While the game itself appeared as it always had, a closer look showed a new and different scene. Everyone not on the field was wearing a face mask, as required, in the 80-degree, humid weather. The band members and cheerleaders stood six feet apart. The stands weren’t packed, but not because of a lack of interest. This season, Cherokee County School District is limiting attendance for member schools to 25-percent capacity. The Warriors play at Tommy Baker Field, which can seat approximately 3,600 people.

On Wednesday, 899 fans — 710 for Cherokee, 189 for Carver — were allowed to attend. Fans were ushered to a predetermined seat, where every other row was left empty. Groups attending together had to sit at least six feet apart.

One of the fans in attendance was Christian Ariano, a senior at Cherokee.

“I’m really excited to see all of my friends do good because I know what they’ve been doing in the offseason,” Ariano said. “So, to see what they do on the field is going to be really exciting.”

In the visitor’s section, Lorenza Lennon and his family were on hand to watch his son, Lorenza Lennon III, a sophomore who was making his first start as quarterback of the Panthers.

Wednesday’s game almost didn’t happen for Carver. Lennon said that a little over two weeks ago, a parent and a player in the program tested positive for COVID-19, and the entire program was shut down for 14 days. The Panthers had only a few days of practice ahead of the game, Lennon said. That they were on the field Wednesday brought joy to him.

“There’s a bunch of emotions,” Lennon said. “I’m happy. It’s a relief. This is what everybody’s been waiting for. I’m excited. I’ve got knots in my stomach, and I’ve been nervous about this all day.”

The game was scheduled to be played at West Forsyth as part of a doubleheader, but when separate sites for each game became the plan, Cherokee was ready to host.

“We appreciate the opportunity to do this,” Warriors athletic director Jeremy Adams said. “We’re going to do it right and keep it focused on what it should be about, and that’s student-athletes getting the right to compete.”

About the Author

Editors' Picks