By BEN JOHNSON
Sequoyah’s 16 seniors slipped on their jerseys and trotted out onto Thompson Field on Friday night.
Sounds like no big deal, right?
Well, considering what happened earlier in the day, it was.
Roughly four hours prior to kickoff, word spread that several Sequoyah players would sit out the Indians’ regular-season finale against Lincoln Christian. That notion was put to rest on the opening kickoff when senior Niko Hammer returned the opening kick.
Sequoyah would end up beating Lincoln Christian, 63-40.
The result wasn’t nearly as suspenseful as the events that played out earlier in the day.
According to one Sequoyah parent, the players caught word of possibly having to sit out while in class. They then met in their locker room to decide a course of action for later that night.
“I think I found out in my second class,” said senior wide receiver/safety Ryan Helsley, “and it was that we shouldn’t play (Friday night) because of all the stuff that’s going on.”
Currently, a select group of Sequoyah players are being allowed to play after a district judge in Cherokee Country upheld a temporary restraining on the Oklahoma Secondary Schools Activities Association, which two weeks ago ruled that eight to 12 Sequoyah players were ineligible because of issues with summer camps and how they were paid for.”
But that was put on the back-burner as Sequoyah’s regular-season finale against the Bulldogs approached. And when Sequoyah came out for pregame warmups, it was pretty evident what was going to happen: the seniors were going to play.
“All the way up until 15 minutes before we went out, they said it was our decision to play or not,” Helsley said. “I thought wasn’t going to get to play.”
“We just all pulled together as a team, as a unit and as a family,” Sequoyah quarterback Brayden Scott said. “That’s what has made this team so special.
“This team is different than any other that I’ve been around. We just we’ll worry about tonight and we’ll worry about tomorrow and we’ll worry about Wednesday when it comes.”
Prior to the game, one parent told the Tahlequah Daily Press that a message had been sent from the OSSAA’s attorney, Mark Grossman, to the attorneys representing the Sequoyah players — Deanna Wales and Tim Baker. The message said: “The boys can play tonight, but if they do, they’ll be penalized harder at the hearing.”
The hearing — where Sequoyah players will appeal their case in front of the OSSAA board of directors — will be Wednesday in Oklahoma City.
When asked about the players opting to play, instead of sitting out, Sequoyah interim coach Shane Richardson said, “I really don’t have anything to say about that. I stayed out of that. Those parents and those kids did what they felt was best for them.”
Thirty minutes before the game, the Sequoyah players were introduced during pregame festivities. And alongside Sequoyah quarterback Brayden Scott was his father, Brent Scott, who is currently suspended from head-coaching duties.
“It was very special to me,” Brayden Scott said of being accompanied by his dad. “To present him with the district championship ball, and to have him on the sidelines with me once more — even if it is my last [game] — at least I got to spend it on the field with him.”
After all the Sequoyah seniors were recognized, the Indians trotted off to the locker room. However, they all spun on a dime and lined up one by one to give Brent Scott a hand shake.
“My dad has been going through a lot,” Brayden Scott said. “I know that meant a lot to him for all the teammates and everybody to give him some support. I can only do so much, and I get go tell the (the team), ‘hey, go give him a hug.’ That was all them. They appreciate dad and what he’s done for them.”
If blowout of Lincoln Christian is their final game in a Sequoyah uniform, Ryan Helsley, Kyle Helsley and Brayden Scott will all have fond memories of it.
“I think we definitely played like it was our last [game],” Kyle Helsley said. “We came together as a team. Tonight was really special.”
“This one meant a lot,” Ryan Helsley said. “It’s kind of bittersweet because it could my team time together with these boys. But it was a lot of fun, though.”
“These are memories I’ll never forget,” Brayden Scott said. “But you can’t hope for the worst, you just have to hope for the best.
“...We’re too good of people to let this bad thing happen to us. It could happen, but the fat lady hasn’t sung yet.”