Many football games have been played under the lights at Pate Stadium since the facility opened in 1979, but perhaps none of them meant as much as the one that took place on Oct. 15, 2016.
On that night, The University of North Carolina at Pembroke’s football team traveled to Laurinburg to take on Kentucky Wesleyan. Twenty miles away, UNCP’s home field, Grace P. Johnson Stadium, sat drenched in floodwater.
At that point, flooding from Hurricane Matthew had subsided to reveal widespread destruction around UNCP’s campus. Trees were knocked down, loose debris crowded walkways and vehicles were stranded after being carried away by stormwater that had engulfed the region.
That destruction could be seen in Robeson County, Scotland County and the rest of southeastern North Carolina after Matthew caused million of dollars of damage.
Damage that is still being repaired.
Pate Stadium stood tall through the carnage. After holding its practices earlier in the week at Wingate University, athletic department officials at UNCP soon realized that the home of Scotland High School football was the best option for the Braves as Saturday’s game drew closer.
And when the teams took the field on that Saturday afternoon, it quickly became apparent that the game was much more than just another nonconference matchup for UNCP.
Prior to the game, UNCP Director of Athletics Dick Christy said he hoped the event would serve as a “rallying point for our fatigued community.” He also hoped it would be a distraction for those who had lost their homes, businesses, vehicles and other belongings in the storm.
The community came out and took advantage of that brief distraction. Approximately 2,759 fans were in attendance as UNCP defeated Kentucky Wesleyan 43-20.
Just as Christy predicted, UNCP’s game did serve as a rallying point — not just for the community, but also for a football team that at one point did not know where it would be playing on that Saturday afternoon.
And the players often spoke about that game as the Braves advanced to the second round of the NCAA Division II playoffs that year. They spoke about how much their success meant to the community after all of the adversity it had been through. They reminisced on how important it was to have other schools and individuals reaching out to help when circumstances got tough.
Two years later, we’re dangerously close to facing a similar situation.
Hurricane Florence is threatening to bring more carnage to this region. This time, we have a better of idea of what to expect.
Scotland High School moved this week’s varsity football game against West Mecklenburg to Wednesday night, meaning the lights at Pate Stadium will be shut off on Friday night.
Let’s hope that’s one of very few inconveniences Hurricane Florence brings to southeastern North Carolina.
Brandon Tester can be reached at [email protected] or 910-506-3170. Follow him on Twitter @BrandonTester.