The Harlem High School homecoming football game was just that - a game.
Yet it was so much more.
A time to laugh. A time to cry. A time to live. Not a time to die, thank God.
Above all, the Friday night homecoming was a time to remember the Little Hawk who will never come home.
No one needed to be reminded that Harlem quarterback Michael Hawkinberry and his family were still grieving for Andrew Hawkinberry, Michael's 8-year-old brother who died in a car crash a week earlier.
Still, just a day after the funeral, Harlem's senior quarterback returned to action - and the reminders were there:
On the Spirit Rock in front of Harlem High School, which bore the message, "We will always remember you" inscribed over "Little Hawk."
On the field, where the opponent was Warren County, site of the fatal automobile accident on Interstate 20.
And on Page 42 of the Harlem football program, where an inspirational message read:
The spirit rock at Harlem High School has been painted in memory of Andrew Hawkenberry, the eight-year-old brother of quarterback Mike Hawkenberry, who was killed in an automobile accident last week on his way to see the Harlem game with his parents.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
"Hawk, You have been source of pride for us for 18 years! Keep your eyes and your heart wide open.
"We Love You!
"Mom, Dad, Nick & Andrew"
Ray and Kelly Hawkinberry, along with 10-year-old Nick, watched Harlem's 22-0 win over Warren County.
Despite his loss, Michael had his eyes and heart wide open. He was playing to win.
"I think he had something to prove, somebody to play for," Harlem coach Jimmie Lewis said. "He played hard, concentrated and did a great job."
It couldn't have been easy to play hard, concentrate or do a great job - but that was what Big Hawk did, because that's what Little Hawk would have wanted.
Hawkinberry threw a touchdown pass to give Harlem a 7-0 first-half lead.
The senior quarterback slogged through the mud and soaked up the cheers.
Then in the second half, he heard a voice that made him smile.
"Touchdown, Larry Crawford!"
The call came through the stadium loud speakers - it was brother Nick announcing the Bulldogs had scored.
Nick still showed physical evidence of the accident. He had cuts and scrapes, and was wearing a neck brace.
During the game, he also was wearing a smile.
Michael Hawkinberry's return to the gridiron was another step in the healing process.
Even a little bit of anger was welcome relief. That emotion was provided when Warren County's defenders applied some late hits on Hawk.
"I was a little bit (fired up) at the end," Hawkinberry said. "I didn't like it too much."
After the action was over, the Harlem players huddled at midfield, and Larry Crawford made it a point to embrace one of his favorite Dogs.
"Hawk's been my best friend since we were small," Crawford said. "It took tremendous courage to come out here and play like that, due to the loss he took.
"That just goes to show you how much character he has. He's the strongest person I've ever met in my life."
Hawkinberry's strength is part of his personal makeup, but in his darkest hour, he drew some power from his teammates.
"They've helped me ever since it happened," he said. "They showed up at the hospital, came by my house, the thoughts and prayers ... It's really helped me through it all."
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