Help is never far away
Nov 1, 2021
The Fort Hill Sentinels didn’t have to look too far on Saturday at Greenway to find some help.
On the very first play following the opening kickoff, all they had to do was look across the line of scrimmage.
Fort Hill started on defense, lining up with 10 players and 11 jerseys — the jersey of Saiquan Jenkins was laid in the secondary at safety, where Jenkins was slated to start in Homecoming.
With all 21 players on the field, both coaching staffs and both benches holding up three fingers in honor of Fort Hill’s No. 3, Allegany took a delay of game penalty, which the Sentinels declined.
After that, the game was underway, with Fort Hill eventually dispatching the Campers, 42-6.
“We had somebody to do it for, we had a motivation,” said Tavin Willis, who rushed for 32 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries. “We knew what we had to do, we knew we could do it. And we did it, man.”
But numbers on a scoreboard weren’t what really counted — Fort Hill’s players had already been declared winners for finding the courage to play.
They had every reason to not play that game. No one in the world would have blamed them.
Instead, Friday afternoon, they decided — as a group — that they were not only going to play, but play for Saiquan.
“This team over the last couple days, we’ve been together more times than we’ve been in our houses,” said Fort Hill fullback Blake White, who finished with six carries for 50 yards and a touchdown. “That’s just how close we are. Being close as a team makes us better, but this is something that’s going to make us closer the rest of our lives. Going through this, being able to come out here and do this and play in his honor.”
Once kickoff came around, Fort Hill head coach Zack Alkire and the Sentinels had every reason in the world to roll over and play an emotionless 48 minutes of football.
Instead, they proceeded to play in a style so dominant that you would have thought they had 12 players on the field. Perhaps, with Saiquan, they did.
“It was very tough,” said Fort Hill’s TJ Lee, who forced a fumble and recovered another later in the contest. “More or less playing the game for him, not really all about the Homecoming or anything like that. Tragedy is always a sad thing. I’m just glad that we were able to come together as a community to take care of everybody and have loving arms open.”
Across the field from the Fort Hill sideline was Allegany head coach Bryan Hansel, who sported a black cap with the No. 3 on it in honor of Jenkins.
“It was hard. I can’t imagine what the other sideline, Zack, the players are going through,” Hansel said after the game. “It was good that we got to honor him before the start of the game and on the first play. The Allegany fans chanted No. 3 and put three fingers up. I’m praying for the community and school to find healing.”
Even in the buildup to Homecoming, help was a lot closer than one would have thought.
In Frostburg on Friday night, Mountain Ridge’s Nathaniel Washington and Uma Pua’auli held a No. 3 jersey during the coin toss in honor of Jenkins. Numerous schools had students don red attire on Friday, and student sections Friday night wore red, no matter their school colors, as a show of support for the Sentinels.
Berkeley Springs players ran onto the field Friday night holding three signs that read “RIP #3” prior to its game against Clear Spring.
Frederick High School players donned a sticker on their helmets with the No. 3 attached to angel wings.
Snow Hill, where former Sentinel head coach Todd Appel serves as an assistant, was joined by opponent Decatur after their game on Friday for a prayer and moment of silence for Jenkins.
And that’s before mentioning the Fort Hill and Allegany cheerleaders that wore shirts commemorating Jenkins, as did Alkire.
“I think the most important thing is we’re going to try to keep these guys together (Sunday),” Alkire said. “There’s a church event that we’re going to do that we’re going to try to get them to come and watch the game and have pizza and stuff for them. And then Monday, football at this point is going to be second. It’s not over for them. They’re on a high tonight, but we need to continue to give them support and help them work through this.”
After the final horn sounded, the help was very apparent for the Sentinels, whose players smiled for probably the first time in two days, said Alkire.
One of those smiling players was Lance Bender, whose 16-yard pass on a fake field goal set up Fort Hill’s third touchdown and one-yard rushing TD put the score at its final.
“I mean Quan lived with me for a while, for six months,” Bender said. “So a lot of people can say somebody is like a brother — he literally is like my brother. So I don’t know how to describe it. Like Coach (Buddy) House said, ‘The community is rallying around the tragedy and it’s all working out,’ so I know Quan’s death wasn’t in vain.”
Bender then shared a story about a hunting trip that he and Jenkins went on in 2020.
“Whenever Quan was staying with me last year, it was early muzzleloader season, like just over a year ago,” Bender said after a laugh. “So I shot at a deer and missed it. So of course the whole way up the hill to look for blood, Quan’s making fun of me. Then the whole way back, Quan’s making fun of me.
“So I was like, ‘I’m tired of this. We’re going to sit here and wait.’ So there’s cardboard under my chair, OK, and I sit down on my chair and under my feet, I feel something moving. And I looked over and there’s this giant snake head. Dude, it was like 4 feet long. I’ve never moved so fast in my whole life, and Quan was with me. If you’ve ever seen a cartoon where their feet are moving so fast, I imagine that’s how it looked.”
Smiles. Laughter. Even if for a moment, it was progress.
Saturday served as a reminder of so many things.
It was a reminder of how important this intra-city football game is to so many people.
It was a reminder of just how strong and resilient a group of 15-, 16- and 17-year-old kids can be, a group that had been through an unfathomable 48 hours.
It was a reminder that no matter what school we attend or graduate from, there’s always a common ground to be allies on.
It was a reminder of just how great the area’s communities are at banding together to show their support to those in need.
But, most importantly, it was a reminder that help is never far away.