Nov. 11—Garren Berry began playing football in Joplin as a youngster. Those days came to an end on Friday night at Nixa High School when the Eagles fell in the Class 6 District 5 championship to Nixa.
Berry was emotional from the moment the clock hit zero and struggled to collect himself for a few minutes after both teams shook hands. After hitting his knees a few times, Berry reached the team huddle.
The senior linebacker talked about those emotions of realizing he'd never wear "36" on his back for Joplin again.
"It was an honor," Berry said. "I've been playing in Joplin since I was in kindergarten in flag football. It's a great culture. We're all one. We're all a team. We all love each other. We say that every week. We go play for each other every week."
Head coach Curtis Jasper talked all season about how special his group was. He talked after the district semifinal win over Kickapoo about how everyone on the team mattered and even the standout players on his team acknowledged the importance of everyone.
"It's tough every year but especially when you have a good group that's so fun to work with and it comes to a screeching halt," Jasper said. "For a lot of these seniors, this is it. This will be the last time they lace them up and put the equipment on."
Jasper added that a lot of these kids, like Berry, have been playing the sport together since they were young.
Berry was a part of 30 wins as a high school football player along with the rest of this senior class. Joplin graduates 22 athletes from this team. The group also competed for two district titles including Friday night's game. The Eagles fell to Lee's Summit North in 2021.
"Four great years," Jasper said. "The seniors, I don't know, they worked hard, great teammates, encouragers, whatever their role was they tried to fill it. Just can't say enough about them."
One major part of Berry's experience as an Eagle wasn't what he did or didn't accomplish on the field, and it wasn't playing for a district championship as a sophomore and senior. Rather, it is something he will take with him after football and after high school.
"It meant a lot," Berry said. "I've been able to become a better man. That's our main goal.
"The coaches are great. They care. They care a lot. They have families and they show up every day to practice just like we do and they just want the best from us."
The last huddle of 2023 was left with this:
"I told them 'Don't be strangers,'" Jasper added.