My High School Years as a Hawk--When Football Made a Comeback
Ted Pacek II

My most memorable experience growing up in the township of Saginaw would definitely have to be playing high school football. I played all four years for Heritage and had the greatest time of my life. And let me tell you, I would do it all over again in a second.

When I arrived at the school as a freshman, in 1997, Heritage had a terrible football program. My freshman year the varsity team lost every game, and nobody seemed to give a hoot at all. The Hawks weren't the talk of the town, but more like a laughing stock to the teams they faced. I remember going to a couple of the games with my older brother, Jim. He took me so I could see what varsity football was all about and how much of a step up it is from freshmen ball.

As the 1997 Heritage and Midland varsity football teams took the field at Midland High School and were about to go to war, Jim and I got seats just before the opening kickoff. Some of the fans were already yelling and screaming, "Go back home! You have already lost the game, and we haven't even kicked off yet!" Most likely it was just a low-class fan that obviously knew more than I did at the time, for the opening kick was returned for a touchdown by Midland, and that was about it for the Hawks. They took this like a slow-turning dagger through the flesh of the body and right through the heart. It was a merciful game for Midland, but Heritage obviously didn't have a clue as to what had just happened. I remember this game a lot because I'll never forget what my brother said to me on the way home: " You guys are gonna be the ones to change this program around into something special, if you all stick together."

My sophomore year at football camp, this huge bulk of bricks arrived as the Heritage varsity head coach. His name was Brett Forester, and he had my whole team shaking when he approached us one day after practice. He started off his little speech with a statement:: "When I talk, you listen, and when I'm through, you look me in the eyes and say, ‘Yes, sir!’" He was the most intimidating person I have ever met; however, he is also one of the people I respect most in my life. Coach Forester was demanding and strict, but also a pretty cool guy. Either you did it his way or you would have to pray for a part time job as the water boy. We were all just pretty thankful we had one more year to go through before he took over as our varsity coach.

When my junior year finally arrived, we were looking forward and ready for the season to come. We had a new weight room built in our school that is nicer than almost any gym I have been to. Unfortunately, the season didn't go as we had expected: We went four and five, and felt as if we had let everyone down. But we knew our senior year would be different.

After our junior season ended we were given a week off. Then we started training and running plays to get things down pat for next year. I have never been so dedicated to something in my life. All the hard work, time, and effort that we put in was going to pay off for us this year. We were letting nothing stand in our way. Hawk fans had always been laid back and quiet, due to the fact they had had nothing to really cheer for, and no one likes to see their players get hammered by the opposition.

The year 2000, however, was a whole new tale yet to be told. The season had finally arrived, and we were in the best shape of our short lives, ready to go against the best teams in the league. And they didn't have a clue as to what was coming. The night of my life was about to come.

October 18th was our homecoming game. It was the visiting Midland High Chemics against the Heritage Hawks at home. This was the Valley Championship Game and the towns were going crazy! That morning I woke up with the shivers. I felt like I was going to puke, and the day hadn't even started. The whole day at school was crazy. We did absolutely nothing in any classes but relax and get hyped for the enormous game. The school day finally ended, and people were heading straight to the stands. It was crazy stuff.

Game time was still three hours away. The time was slowly going by and the nerves of steel were turning to glops of goo. We did not know what was about to happen. We figured there would be a lot of people there, but this night was absolutely awesome! We took the field to warm up, and as we walked past the gate, we were welcomed by an explosive chant of 13,000 screaming fans--a Michigan high school record!

The game was about to start. We elected to kick off and the game was on its way. It was a game of defense and a bunch of smashing hits. We struck first in the second quarter on an option run by our quarterback, Stuart Schweigert. The very next play Midland attacked on a touchdown pass of sixty yards to tie the game at 7-7. The game remained this way until the end of regulation, with 13,000 fans on their feet.

Over-time approached and they had the ball first. The fans’ cheering and screaming came to a halt; you could hear a pin drop. The quarterback started his cadence, "Blue! Twelve! Hut! Hut!" I attacked the quarterback as if a thief was attacking an old woman with millions of dollars stashed in her purse. He let go of the ball and threw an interception; it was our turn to capitalize. On our first play from scrimmage we fumbled the ball and gave it right back to them. The Chemic fans were going nuts, jumping and screaming as if they had won the lottery. The next play was one of the most heartbreaking and crushing moments in my life. They snapped the ball and successfully reached the promised land. I turned my head in disbelief, but it was true. The officials on the goal line put their hands in the air and the game was over. We had suffered defeat on our own field.

We slowly got everything together and headed into the locker room. Filled with rage and anger, I felt as if we had let the whole town down. We said our team prayer, changed into our clothes and headed out, to be met by the news and the press. To no one's surprise, not one player on our team stopped to comment. That was all we needed--a face on TV admitting to the let-down of the city. This game had brought everyone together, and people there all had one thing in common---it was how proud of us they were, which we soon found out.

I finally stepped outside and our bleachers were still completely filled. Proud fans stayed to give our team a standing ovation, which I will never forget. The lights on the field were turned off and we were led to the tundra where we had just suffered defeat. The lights turned on, and, to our surprise, each and every fan from our side stayed to cheer us on for the great season we had had. This changed the way I looked at the town of Saginaw, and I knew that football at Heritage was now a proud tradition!

Editor's Note: Stuart Schweigert, former Heritage Hawk football player, now plays football for the Oakland Raiders (2005), as a safety in the NFL. He and the author of this essay, Ted Pacek II, are still good friends.

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