For Saiquan: Sentinels decide to play Homecoming for their fallen teammate
Oct 30, 2021
CUMBERLAND, Md. — Normally this story would be filled with stats and factoids, but football seems so far from important right now.
But what may seem unimportant to some might be ever-important to others, which is why the Fort Hill football players decided to play today in the Homecoming game. Not only play, however, but honor their fallen teammate, Saiquan Jenkins.
Less than 48 hours before kickoff, and only a few hundred yards from where either Allegany’s Blake Powell or Fort Hill’s Jacob Tichnell will boot the opening kickoff on Saturday, the Sentinels were hit with a tragedy on Thursday when Jenkins was stabbed and killed near the school.
The Sentinels came to a decision on Friday afternoon after coming together and making the decision as a group.
“Basically it was all in the kids’ hands,” Fort Hill head coach Zack Alkire said. “The kids were talking about it last night. When I pulled some of the team leadership in, they had all said, ‘Hey, we’re going to play.’ I said that’s great, but I want you guys to go up in the locker room and discuss it as a team. I know I’ve heard it from a few individuals but I want a total team response. They did that and decided they wanted to play. And they decided in a certain way they wanted to honor Quan with the game.”
“When we first heard about the incident, we were just shocked,” said Allegany head coach Bryan Hansel. “And then we heard more and more while we were at practice, from sickening to tragic. The kid was at a space where his biggest fear was he forgot his laptop or a girl broke his heart or he twisted his ankle at football practice. It was supposed to be a safe space for him. But your heart hurts and you just feel sick. You feel for the family and it gives you a feeling like you’re almost going to throw up.
“When we first heard, we pulled our captains aside and told them first. Then we pulled the team in the middle of practice and let them know what happened. We looked them in the face and got to tell them we love them. Being able to hear the message that we love and care for them, just as a team we were lucky to be able to do that. Our kids knew him, played basketball with him. ... It’s just hard right now.”
Kickoff at Greenway Avenue Stadium is set for 12:30 p.m., with Allegany playing host to the Sentinels.
“They’re difficult conversations,” Alkire said. “Regardless of if it’s Year 1, Year 2, Year 20. There’s no playbook for this. It’s been extremely difficult to put what you’re feeling in words. What it basically amounts to is just the conversations have all centered around, ‘We’re here for you, we love you.’”
“As I talked to the administration, we have a great administration, that whole decision was going to be up to Fort Hill,” said Hansel. “We were going to support them in whatever way we could on our end. At that point, what we could do from our end, we were going to leave it up to them and go with it in any form or fashion. If they decided not to play, we would’ve done everything we could to make sure it was a no-contest or a tie or whatever needed to happen so that they wouldn’t have to take a forfeit.”
Hansel faced tragedy within the Allegany football program at the beginning of the month when senior wideout Solomon Green’s brother unexpectedly passed. As Alkire said, there’s not much of a playbook for handling this tragedy, but both coaches are doing their best to handle the unfortunate cards they’ve been dealt.
“I don’t know, just frustrated for our community,” Hansel said. “You have people selling drugs, you got people using weapons for disputes or whatever it may be. It’s just frustrating man, these kids are young. They’re supposed to be at our funerals, not the other way around. With Sully, we check on him every day and tell him we love him. It’s about just making sure they know you love them as much as possible. Just being there and being an ally and someone they can trust, I think, is probably the biggest part of our job.”
At the coin toss in Frostburg Friday night between Mountain Ridge and Keyser, the captains of the Miners were joined by Nathaniel Washington and Uma Pua’auli, who were holding a No. 3 jersey in honor of Jenkins.
Both players reached the end zone, as Washington had five catches for 95 yards and two touchdowns and Pua’auli five receptions for 37 yards and a score.
“They stepped up with all kinds of adversity,” Mountain Ridge head coach Ryan Patterson said. “They were the two that were hurting the most. Those two played on a travel team with Saiquan over the summer. Obviously, that’s why they were carrying the jersey out there. Those two in particular had to do an emotional gut check. I’m super proud of how they stepped up tonight.”
Mountain Ridge left the No. 3 jersey draped over the bench throughout the entire game.
“Fort Hill has been on our minds since this happened,” Southern head coach Jon Nazelrod said after their game at Northern. “And I can’t even imagine what that school’s going through. If there’s anything that Southern Garrett High School and the football team can do for Fort Hill, we’ll do whatever, for the coaches, for the kids, whatever. We’ll do whatever for them.
“If there’s a coaching staff that’s going to handle that in a way to make sure that those kids are OK, it’s them. ... I know a couple of those guys, those guys are good guys.”
While the football may seem so unimportant at a time like this, the players and coaches will have a few hours on Saturday afternoon to play the game they love and continue a long-standing rivalry in the 99th all-time meeting between the Sentinels and Campers and the 47th meeting in Homecoming.
“I’m really proud of them,” Alkire said of his players. “It was what I thought they would want to do, but I’m just proud of their resiliency all day. Having to go back to school the next day and basically having to arrive at the last place they saw their friend. That’s got to be really tough.
“I do think it was the right decision to play the game. The kids definitely took a step in the right direction. We reminded them that even though the game will be played in his honor, it won’t be done. This whole process won’t stop just because we played a game. It’s an ongoing process that will impact them for a long time. We just shared today that just because we’re playing, we’re still going to be there for them and this isn’t going to stop on our end either.”