When 26 people were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. in early December 2012, the entire world recoiled in horror at the shocking, violent act. In the aftermath of the tragedy, prep sports in the town helped bring the community back together.
That process continued on a grander scale when the Newtown High (Newtown, Ct.) football team returned to the field to host its first game of the 2013 season. In an emotional evening, the Newtown Nighthawks sported special tribute jerseys in Sandy Hook colors and featured the number 26 on both helmet logos and a small memorial flourish between the words "Sandy" and "Hook" on the front of the team's jerseys.
On the back of every jersey was the phrase "Stay Strong" rather than player names. Naturally, none of the players had any problem with the change.
What transpired on the field was both emotional and gripping, with Newtown clearing playing with a higher purpose. The Nighthawks jumped out to an early lead against Bethel High (Bethel, Ct.), opening up a 22-0 gap at halftime. Then, just when it looked like Newtown was going to run away and hand its fans an easy, memorable victory, Bethel roared back to close the gap to 22-14.
In the end, that was as close as Bethel got, a result that was good enough to set off a brief cathartic moment that closed another chapter in Newtown's long recovery story.
"In the end, a win is a win," Newtown coach Steve George told the Danbury News-Times. "That's what this game is all about. We're a resilient town. We went through a lot of horrible events, but in the end, things will be alright. The kids played hard until the final whistle."
Newtown lineman Dom Scarangella was even more struck by the game's raw emotion.
"It was just kind of overwhelming," Scarangella said of the night's emotions. "I've never seen so many people at a game. We played for them tonight. It was good to distract them from everything that happened."