Back in the game: Local alumni defend their home turf

New Hope Alumni Team
The Friday night lights continued to shine bright for local high school alumni who strapped on the pads one more time to challenge their rivals. And they raised money for charity, too.

The second annual alumni football game fundraiser was Aug. 8 at Madison County High School in Gurley. This year, the New Hope Indians continued their winning ways by beating the Madison County Tigers 16-0. The Indians also won last year 18-12 in overtime.

The men, some more than two decades past their high school days, didn’t let the fact that they’ve been out of practice for a while curb their enthusiasm.

“Last year, I was the oldest person on the team,” 44-year-old David Whitaker says. He played defensive end and sacked the quarterback during the game.

This year he gave the honor of being the oldest player to another friend and former teammate, Harold Manley. “I had told him, ‘Harold, you’re going to wish you had played. It’s worth it to get under the lights one more time,’” Whitaker says.

So Manley, 45, not only played on the team this year, but his son, Zack, also joined the team. “It’s something you can’t explain,” he says. “I’m his dad, but in the huddle I’m his teammate.”

While Manley was the oldest on the team, the youngest player was Zack, a 2013 New Hope High School graduate and current student at the University of Alabama at Huntsville. It’s a sense of pride that can’t be explained, Manley says about wearing the same uniform as his son. Manley, a 1990 NHHS graduate, played wide receiver during the alumni game.

“I’ve got another son, and I’m trying to talk him into playing, too,” Manley says. “If that happens, I won’t play again.”

Each team exceeded their initial goal of raising $10,000. New Hope High School raised $10,300, and Madison County High School raised $12,500. As the home team, Madison received concession profits. All proceeds from the game are earmarked for each school’s football program.

The committee made a decision to rotate the location every year so each school has an opportunity to benefit from the parking and concession profits. Each team was allowed to use their respective school’s equipment, except for the uniforms.

Alumni cheerleaders cheered the men on, and the Madison County High School band also performed during halftime.
For competitors such as Manley and Whitaker, the game creates new sports memories.
“I love the game of football,” Whitaker says. “It was the experience of a lifetime. It had been 26 years since I strapped on pads and played football.”

It certainly won’t be the last time he steps foot on the field either. Whitaker says he plans to play in next year’s game.